KC priest to plead guilty in child porn case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Kansas City priest accused of producing and possessing child pornography will plead guilty Thursday to at least some of the federal charges he faces, his attorney confirmed.

The Rev. Shawn Ratigan, 46, was charged last August with six counts of production of child pornography, two counts of possession of child pornography and five counts of attempted production of child pornography.

He also faces three child pornography counts in Clay County, where he was charged in May 2011 after officials with the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph turned over images taken from Ratigan's computer to police.

Ratigan's federal public defender, Bob Kuchar, on Wednesday told The Associated Press details of the priest's plea were still being worked out and he could not comment until after Thursday's hearing.

A technician working on the priest's computer found hundreds of "troubling images" on the laptop in December 2010 and reported them to the diocese, which confronted Ratigan. The next day, Ratigan failed to show up for 8:30 a.m. Mass and was found in his garage, his motorcycle running and a suicide note nearby apologizing for any harm he had caused.

Instead of reporting suspected child abuse to the state, as required by law, Bishop Robert Finn sent the priest out of state for psychological evaluation. Upon his return to Missouri, Ratigan was sent to live at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist, where he would be away from children and would say Mass for the sisters.

The diocese turned over a flash drive from Ratigan's computer -- which had been given to relatives of the priest and destroyed -- after Finn learned the priest had violated orders to stay away from children.

With Ratigan behind bars, attention turned to how Finn and the diocese handled the case, especially in light of a $10 million settlement of lawsuits filed by 47 people who said they had been molested by clergy.

Jackson County prosecutors charged Finn and the diocese last October with one count each of failing to report suspected child abuse to the state. Both have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial in September.

In November, Finn entered into an agreement with the Clay County prosecutor's office that gives the prosecutor authority for five years to review how the diocese handles future allegations of child abuse. Under that deal, which was in return for the county not filing charges against Finn, the bishop must report directly to the prosecutor each month to provide updates on any reports of abuse.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, issued a statement Wednesday encouraging the diocese to reach out to find and console Ratigan's victims.

"Father Ratigan and Bishop Finn and the diocese all face other criminal charges," SNAP said. "So tomorrow's outcome is not the end of this tragedy. It's still important for victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to come forward. No one should assume that justice will be done in each of these cases."
 

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