KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Pope Francis has appointed a bishop to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, permanently replacing a cleric who was convicted of failing to report a suspected child abuser.
Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., who will be installed in his new post Nov. 4, said at an event introducing him Tuesday that the diocese had endured “uncertain and often difficult days” and stressed the “great need for some healing.” He asked for prayers for the diocese.
Johnston, 55, will take over from Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who has been overseeing the diocese since Bishop Robert Finn resigned in April.
Finn was found guilty in 2012 of one misdemeanor count of failure to report suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years of probation, making him the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of taking no action over abuse allegations.
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Finn faced pressure to resign and petition drives urged the pope to remove him. He left under canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some “grave” reason making them unfit for office. He didn’t provide a specific reason for his resignation.
Prosecutors say the diocese waited six months before notifying police that concerns had been raised in 2011 about the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, whose computers were found to contain hundreds of lewd photos of young girls. Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison and 21 years in state prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.
Finn apologized for Ratigan’s abuse and took measures to make the diocese safer for children.
Allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church have affected Johnston personally. Anthony O’Connell, the priest who ordained Johnston, quit after admitting he repeatedly abused an underage student at a Missouri seminary he led.
“I also am aware up close the pain the actions of priests and bishops have caused many people individually and the importance of taking seriously the need for healing and for calling people to responsibility,” said Johnston, who served on the Committee on Child and Youth Protection for the U.S. bishops’ conference. “If anyone commits sexual abuse toward minors it is inexcusable. It’s a crime, and it’s a serious sin.”
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victim advocacy group, said in a statement that Johnston’s record on abuse was “disappointing,” and urged victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to seek help from police and other outside sources rather than “blindly trust Catholic officials.”
Johnston has led the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese in Missouri for 7 ½ years, and assisted in relief efforts after a massive tornado struck the city of Joplin, killing 161 people.