This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a breakthrough indictment in the Roman Catholic Church’s global scandal involving the sexual abuse of children. These charges in Missouri are a very big deal.

A bishop in the Roman Catholic Church has been indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse, the first time in the 25-year history of the church’s sex abuse scandals that the leader of an American diocese has been held criminally liable for the behavior of a priest he supervised.

The indictment of the bishop, Robert W. Finn, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph by a county grand jury was announced on Friday. Each was charged with one misdemeanor count involving a priest accused of taking pornographic photographs of girls as recently as this year. They pleaded not guilty.

The case caused an uproar among Catholics in Kansas City this year when Bishop Finn acknowledged that he knew of the photographs last December but did not turn them over to the police until May. During that time, the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, is said to have continued to attend church events with children, and took lewd photographs of another young girl.

Three years ago, after the Diocese of Kansas City was caught up in a series of other sexual-abuse scandals, Finn promised to alert the authorities to church officials suspected of harming children. The allegations suggest Finn ignored that promise, looked the other way when Ratigan targeted young girls, and even allowed him to attended children’s parties and preside at a girl’s First Communion.

If convicted, Finn faces a possible sentence of a $1,000 fine and/or a year in jail. The diocese also faces a possible fine. The charges come in the midst of grand jury proceedings in a nearby county, where the Diocese of Kansas City also faces civil and criminal cases in federal court, also because of the church’s suspected abuse of children.

By all accounts, it is the first instance of an American bishop facing criminal charges for failing to report a suspected crime.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* President Obama hosted an evangelical summit at the White House this week, meeting with top leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals.

* The Barna Group published a report this week on Americans’ support for President Obama by religious denomination. The president’s support was strongest among self-identified skeptics. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

* The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer argued this week that the United States hasn’t faced a “Muslim attack” since Sept. 11 because Major League Baseball swapped “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” to “God Bless America” in the seventh-inning stretch the week after 9/11. He wasn’t kidding.