Another abuse accusation, and “sweeping changes and reviews”

Two Kansas City updates

Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph has been apologizing a lot over the last few weeks for the way the diocese handled complaints about a priest who was eventually arrested on child-pornography charges.

That bad situation has gotten even worse, as the Kansas City Star reports that Finn’s vicar general – the official responsible for overseeing sex abuse cases for the diocese – was himself accused of sexual abuse several years ago.

A Kansas City man wrote the bishop of the diocese four years ago, alleging sexual harassment in 1984 by the Rev. Robert Murphy, a priest who is now vicar general.

Brian Heydon, a licensed professional counselor, said Murphy exposed himself and propositioned him as a young man during a meeting at St. Catherine’s rectory, where Murphy then lived.

The diocese has said Heydon’s claims are unfounded. …

Rebecca Summers, the diocese’s spokeswoman, confirmed in 2007 that Heydon had written to Bishop Finn. She said Finn conducted an internal investigation into Heydon’s allegations and responded in a letter to Heydon.

In Finn’s May 4, 2007, letter, which Heydon provided to The Star, Finn said the allegations were unsubstantiated.

“This accusation has given rise to serious discussions and considerations,” Finn wrote in the letter, which Heydon received three weeks after writing to Finn. “Your claims about events 23 years ago are detailed and full of emotion. Monsignor Murphy firmly denies any sexual impropriety or solicitation and does not remember the circumstances of his meetings with you as you described them.

“As troubling as these accusations are, I cannot conclude that they are compelling in their most serious claims.”

Summers said at the time, and on Wednesday, that there would be no further response to The Star from the diocese or from Murphy.

“Bishop Finn’s letter will serve as our comment,” she said.

Murphy has also played a controversial role in the case of Father Shawn Ratigan, who was arrested last month for possessing child pornography. A complaint about Ratigan’s suspicious behavior around children was sent to the diocese last year; Murphy briefed Bishop Finn on the memo, but did not show the bishop the document itself. Ratigan remained at his post at St. Patrick’s Parish for several months more, until disturbing images of children were discovered on his computer in December.

In another development out of the diocese, Bishop Finn announced “sweeping changes and reviews” of how allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy are handled.

Finn’s “Initial Five-Point Plan” for reform is outlined in a press release posted on the diocese’s website:

1. Immediate appointment of former national co-chair of the Department of Justice Child Exploitation Working Group and former U.S. Attorney to conduct an independent investigation of events, policies and procedures,

2. Appointment of an independent public liaison and ombudsman to field and investigate any reports of suspicious or inappropriate behavior,

3. Reaffirmation of current diocesan policy and immediate commencement of an independent review of the policies for Ethical Codes of Conduct and Sexual Misconduct,

4.  An in-depth review of diocesan personnel training regarding the Ethical Codes of Conduct and the policy on Sexual Misconduct,

5. Continued cooperation with local law enforcement.

Bishop Finn stated, “These are initial steps. Other actions are forthcoming.”

More details on the planned reforms can be found here. A video of Bishop Finn explaining the changes can be viewed here.

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.