Pope accepts resignation of high-ranking bishop involved in abuse cover-up

Pope Francis and (inset) Bishop Robert Finn
Pope Francis and (inset) Bishop Robert Finn

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a US bishop who pleaded guilty to failing to report a priest suspected of child abuse, in the first known case of a pope cracking down on a bishop who covered up for a paedophile.

The Vatican said Bishop Robert Finn offered his resignation under the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some "grave" reason that makes them unfit for office. It did not provide the reason.

Finn, who leads the diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph in Missouri, waited six months before notifying police about the Rev Shawn Ratigan, whose computer contained hundreds of lewd photos of young girls taken in and around churches where he worked.

Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.

Finn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour charge of failure to report suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years' probation in 2012.

He remains the highest-ranking church official in the US to be convicted of failing to take action in response to abuse allegations.

The Vatican's failure to sanction or remove him had fuelled victims' complaints that bishops were continuing to enjoy protections even under the "zero tolerance" pledge of Francis.

Even Francis's leading adviser on issues surrounding sex abuse, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, had said publicly that Francis needed to "urgently" address Finn's case.

The Vatican sent a Canadian archbishop to Finn's diocese last autumn as part of his an investigation of his leadership.

Finn's resignation comes as Francis faces similar pressure to remove a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros, amid an unprecedented outcry over his long-time affiliation with Chile's most notorious molester, the Rev Fernando Karadima.

Karadima's victims say Barros witnessed their abuse decades ago. He has denied knowing anything until he read news reports of Karadima's crimes in 2010.

The Vatican has defended the appointment. Karadima was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.

Earlier this month, members of the Pope's sex abuse advisory commission went to Rome in an unscheduled session to voice their concern about Barros.

Cardinal O'Malley subsequently told the Pope that the Vatican must come up with "appropriate procedures and modalities to evaluate and adjudicate cases of 'abuse of office'" when bishops fail to protect children.