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A Catholic bishop who was the first American priest convicted of not notifying police of suspected child abuse in a timely manner is now the chaplain at a Lincoln convent.

But Lincoln's bishop said Robert Finn paid for his mistake by completing two years of probation and deserves mercy.

Finn became chaplain of Lincoln's School Sisters of Christ the King convent in December after serving as bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for 10 years.

He cited personal reasons when he resigned as a bishop in April in the aftermath of a child pornography scandal involving one of his priests, Father Shawn Ratigan, and a subsequent Vatican investigation into Finn's effectiveness as a leader.

As chaplain for the School Sisters of Christ the King, Finn celebrates Mass, hears confessions and serves as spiritual adviser to the more than 30 nuns who live in the convent. He succeeds Monsignor Myron Pleskac, who died Jan. 2.

Bishop James D. Conley of the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln said Finn has been well received in Lincoln.

The School Sisters of Christ the King nuns serve as principals and teachers in seven Lincoln diocese schools.

Diocese spokesman JD Flynn noted that despite the controversy surrounding Finn's time in Kansas City, he never was accused or even suspected of any sexual impropriety. Rather, he said, Finn's offense was an administrative mistake, in that he failed to notify police immediately of Ratigan’s behavior and tried to handle matters within the diocese.

Finn was the first American priest to even be indicted for failing to report suspected child abuse to police “in a timely manner.”

He learned in December 2010 that Ratigan had child pornography on his computer involving children in the Kansas City diocese. According to reports, Finn immediately removed Ratigan from the school and ordered him not to have contact with children.

But the photos were not reported to police until five months later, and by that time, Ratigan had taken more photos of another young girl in the diocese. Ultimately, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Finn and the diocese were each indicted on two misdemeanor counts of failing to report the abuse. A judge found Finn guilty of one count and sentenced him to two years on probation. The diocese paid a $1.1 million civil fine for violating the terms of a 2008 civil settlement regarding the Kansas City diocese and a history of child sex abuse.

Finn declined a request for an interview.

Citing the Catholic Year of Mercy, as declared by Pope Francis, the Lincoln diocese sees Finn as a priest who should be allowed to move on.

“It is a grace to welcome Bishop Finn to our diocese, to continue his priestly ministry as chaplain to the School Sisters of Christ the King," Conley said in a written statement. "Priests and the faithful of our diocese have told me how glad they are to have him here. Bishop Finn has been a longtime friend to the School Sisters -- and in God’s mercy, he arrived just as their beloved chaplain passed away.

"Of course, Bishop Finn has faced legal issues related to administrative decisions, he’s addressed them appropriately, and they’ve been resolved. The faithful of our diocese can be confident that his ministry as a chaplain to the School Sisters of Christ will be a grace for all of us, and a witness to God’s enduring mercy."

Conley consulted with a number of ecclesiastical officials before assigning Finn to the convent, Flynn said. The appointment was announced in both the Lincoln and Kansas City diocese newspapers in December, and Finn had to pass a customary background check and complete child protection training before the Lincoln appointment.

“We have zero tolerance for crimes against children,” he added, noting that Conley has reversed former Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz' longstanding refusal to take part in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' clergy sex abuse audit.

“It was not that he didn’t report it," Flynn said of Finn's involvement. "It was how and when … The way he reported it didn’t fulfill the requirements of the law.”

But in Kansas City, opinions are markedly divided.

Finn’s critics say he took part in a massive cover-up, perpetuating the victimization of Ratigan’s victims through drawn-out and extremely costly legal proceedings.

Supporters paint a picture of a leader whose conservative ideas ruffled feathers among the diocese’s entrenched bureaucracy from the start. Ratigan’s offenses exacerbated Finn’s status as the diocese’s “low-hanging fruit,” as Frank Kessler wrote in an article for Crisis Magazine in May.

Some accused Kansas City Prosecuting Attorney Jean Peters Baker of making Finn a political scapegoat, which she denied.

"No one is above the law, no matter our position or title,” Baker wrote in a letter to members of Christ the King Parish in Kansas City, Missouri.

All of that is in the past, Flynn said, questioning the motivation of those who continue to make an issue of Finn’s history.

“It doesn’t strike me as particularly Christian to search out a person who made a mistake and continue to hound him about it,” Flynn said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7217 or eandersen@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSerinandersen.

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