It has never seemed the best hill to die on, but apparently Catholic League president Bill Donohue doesn’t know how to quit defending Bishop Robert Finn, who wasfound guilty this week of one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse. (Be sure to read David Gibson’s post on the devastating Times story.) Back in November, Donohue declared that Finn was “an innocent man,” and flew all the way to Kansas City just to show how much he meant it.
“In an ideal world,” Donohue claimed, “there would have been no charges whatsoever: there was no complainant and no violation of law.” Yes, and in an ideal world, when a U.S. bishop learns — nearly a decade after the 2002 wave of scandals broke — that one of his priests has crotch shots of kids on his computer, after having learned about a detailed letter of complaint about the guy from a Catholic school principal, the bishop would report the priest to the proper authorities, in accordance with civil and canon law. But that’s not the world Bishop Finn was living in. So now he stands convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse. In other words, Finn is not an innocent man. That’s why he issued a statement — both through his lawyer (.doc) and on his own behalf (.doc) — that contains apologetic-sounding words arranged in a way that avoids actually accepting responsibility for his failure to report the pornographer priest Ratigan. (Do yourself a favor and read Mark Silk on that and more here.)
You’d think Finn’s conviction would be enough to force Donohue back from the ledge, or at least show a measure of contrition. But no. He’s going all the way over. In his latest pronouncement, magisterially titled “Assessing Bishop Finn’s Guilt,” Donohue purports to bust some myths about the Finn case. Instead, he perpetrates some myth-making of his own. Let’s have a look. Donohue:
Bishop Finn was not found guilty of a felony: he was found guilty of one misdemeanor, and innocent of another. The case did not involve child sexual abuse—no child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Shawn Ratigan. Nor did this case involve child pornography.
True, Finn was not convicted of a felony. He was convicted of a misdemeanor because he failed to call the police when he had reason to suspect Fr. Shawn Ratigan of being a threat to children.
But Donohue is out to lunch when he claims that “the case did not involve child abuse.” In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI amended church norms to define sexual abuse as including “the acquisition, possession, or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using whatever technology.” (Canon law considers children under fourteen to be prepubescent.) Donohue may not think Ratigan’s photos of children are pornographic, but the law does.
You know who else does? Shawn Ratigan. In August, he pleaded gui...