Open letter to Clay Co. and Jackson Co. Prosecutors

Dear Mr. White and Ms. Baker:

We’re not lawyers, police, prosecutors or judges. We haven’t seen all the evidence. And we realize it’s possible that Bishop Robert Finn might be deemed innocent of the charges he faces.

We don’t mean to overstep, overreach, insult or offend anyone. We are glad you have convened grand juries. We are grateful, Ms. Baker, that your office has filed charges against Finn. We hope, Mr. White, that your office goes even further.

Still, we are concerned that Finn and his lawyers will secure a minimal fine or some type of “diversion.” And if this happens, we’re concerned that a distressing signal may be sent: enabling child sex crimes isn’t a big deal. And we believe it will have little or no effect on Finn, his staff, and other Catholic officials here, especially in a few short years as memories fade and deeply-ingrained, decades-old patterns of secrecy, recklessness and callousness regain strength.

We make this request out of concern for kids and compassion for victims, not out of vengeance toward church officials. The idea of anyone being imprisoned for any reason brings us no joy. But the idea of kids continuing to be sexually exploited and adults continuing to ignore, conceal, and enable such devastation is far more distressing.

We are committed to preventive measures, not punitive measures. Jailing Finn, once his guilt has been determined or admitted, would be an unprecedented and effective step toward preventing future clergy sex crimes and cover ups, in Kansas City and elsewhere.

We know you were elected to serve the citizens of Jackson County. We know that you must focus just on the facts of this case. And we know you are bound by Missouri laws.

Still, we beg you to please consider these cases involving bishops across the country:

In Cincinnati OH, in 2003, the archdiocese pled no contest to five misdemeanor counts of failure to report a crime, in return for opening up thousands of pages of church records about pedophile priests to government officials. In the following years, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk continued his pattern of assigning credibly accused priests to unsuspecting parishes. And shortly after Pilarczyk’s plea deal was reached, prosecutor Mike Allen said "Representations made by the archdiocese [of Cincinnati] with respect to this matter [of cooperating with court mandate for releasing documents] are at best seriously misleading, and in fact appear to be outright false."

In Manchester NH, in 2002, the diocese reached a settlement for its role in forty years abuse and cover up. The agreement required that church officials submit to five annual state audits of its handling of sex abuse cases.  But from the very beginning, Bishop John McCormack delayed the process, insisting that the diocese should be treated specially and not have to pay for the audits. Then, he and his lawyers fought with the attorney general about the scope of the audits. Ultimately, only four audits were done but each of them revealed shortcomings that could allow a predator to work in the diocese undetected. Several of the audits contained harsh criticism of church officials, years after the original settlement happened.

In Phoenix AZ, in 2003, Bishop Thomas O’Brien avoided an obstruction of justice indictment by signing an agreement admitting that he had concealed cases of child sex abuse by clergy, and pledging that he would not handle such allegations in the future. Within hours, however, O’Brien defiantly announced that he was not guilty of anything, rubbing salt in the wounds of many victims and parishioners with his stunning lack of remorse.

An astonished Maricopa County Prosecuting Attorney Rick Romley publicly said "Did the bishop fail to understand the confession he was signing? Did he fail to understand that he needed immunity? If he continues to lie about everything, I'll have to consider whether or not that's a breach of our agreement.”

(He resigned a month later, after being jailed for his role in a fatal hit-and-run accident.)

In Santa Rosa CA, in 2006, Bishop Daniel Walsh and his lawyers and top aides delayed at least five days before reporting admitted child sex crimes by Fr. Xavier Ochoa. Ochoa used that time to flee justice and return to his native Mexico, where he continued to walk free for three more years. 

Walsh was given a minimal “diversion” penalty. And we’ve seen virtually no change in how that diocese now deals with abuse.

So, the pattern is clear:

More than 6,000 US priests are accused of molesting kids.

Only a tiny handful of church supervisors have ever come close to facing criminal charges.

Those who do usually get ‘sweetheart deals’ in which they avoid real consequences.

And then, they essentially continue to profess their innocence.

We strongly but respectfully ask each of you to consider doing everything possible to prevent a repeat of this disturbing pattern which may leave kids vulnerable and victims suffering.

Again, we’re not attorneys. But we understand that if Finn is found guilty or admits guilt, there are basically four possibilities.

He could get “diversion.”

He could pay a fine.

He could go to jail.

Or he could pay a fine and go to jail.

The first two choices will do little, we believe, to console those who are hurting and who have been victimized because of Finn’s irresponsible behavior. Nor will the first two options do much to deter similar wrongdoing by church officials in the future.

The latter two will, we believe, lead to making children safer, in Kansas City and elsewhere.

Again, we know it may seem premature to talk of consequences for a defendant who officially must still be considered innocent (and who, in Clay County, hasn’t even been charged yet). But we feel compelled to share our experience and our perspective with you now, before we suddenly learn through the news media that yet another Catholic official has struck yet another lenient plea deal that will yet again essentially do little or nothing to stop future damage to innocent, vulnerable kids or to heal suffering adults who’ve already been damaged.

Thank you,

David Clohessy

Executive Director, SNAP

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

7234 Arsenal Street                 

St. Louis MO 63143                

314 566 9790[email protected]

Barbara Dorris

Outreach Director, SNAP

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

6245 Westminster Place

Saint Louis, MO 63130

314 503 0003[email protected]

Mike Hunter

SNAP KC Director

4016 West 72 Terrace

Prairie Village, MO 66208

Showing 7 comments

SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant