Bishop under fire for way he handled Ratigan case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Three years after Bishop Robert Finn promised that sexual abuse of children by clergy members would never happen again in his diocese, the Roman Catholic bishop is under fire for his handling of the first abuse case under his watch.

Some members of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are calling for Finn to step down after the bishop admitted he didn't follow up on complaints from a parish principal a year ago about the behavior of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan.

Ratigan, who tried to kill himself in December after diocese officials discovered the images on his laptop, is facing three state child pornography charges and 13 federal charges for possessing, producing and attempting to produce child porn.

The 45-year-old has pleaded not guilty on all charges and remains behind bars on $200,000 bond.

Critics claim the diocese's actions, even after hundreds of "disturbing" images of children were found on Ratigan's computer, amount to protecting the priest in the same way the church protected clergy members who had sexually abused children decades ago.

"What you certainly are seeing is the dynamic of chancery people who were not horrified by what was happening to children," said Terence McKiernan, president of the group BishopAccountability.org. "In general, the pornography aspect of the sexual abuse crisis is not considered as grave as it should be."

Finn acknowledged in May -- after charges were filed against Ratigan -- that St. Patrick's School Principal Julie Hess had raised concerns a year ago that Ratigan was behaving inappropriately around children.

Some say Finn's dismissal of those early claims, and failure to have Ratigan's computer turned over to police after images of a naked child were found, amounts to criminal activity.

"I feel like if Finn gets into legal trouble, things could change in the church," said Patricia Rotert, a congregation member who is trying to rally support for legal charges against the bishop. "If he doesn't and nothing happens, I don't think I can continue being Catholic. I can't be part of this. The more I learn, the more disgusted I get."

Finn's supporters acknowledge the diocese made mistakes in dealing with Ratigan, but say Finn's biggest error was putting too much faith in others in the diocese -- including Ratigan.

"Bishop Finn has with priests a much different relationship than employer to employee. It goes much deeper than that," said Bruce Burkhart, a Kansas City congregation member who also belongs to the Serra Club, an organization dedicated to supporting and promoting priests. "It's like a father and son relationship. A father is always going to want to trust his son."

The bishop issued a statement in late May acknowledging his failure in handling the Ratigan case.

"Please understand that at the time of the May 2010 report, we had no knowledge of any inappropriate photographs or images in Shawn Ratigan's possession," Finn said in the statement.

But the diocese did know about the photos in December after a technician working on Ratigan's laptop found hundreds of photos of children, most of them fully clothed with the focus on their crotch areas, and a series of pictures of a 2- to 3-year-old girl with her genitals exposed.

Instead of reporting those to authorities, Vicar General Robert Murphy called a police captain who is a member of the diocese's independent review board and described a single photo of a nude child that was not sexual in nature.

Without viewing the photo, Capt. Rick Smith said he was advised that although such a picture might meet the definition of child pornography, it probably wouldn't be investigated or prosecuted.

The day after the diocese took possession of Ratigan's computer, the priest was found unconscious in his garage, his motorcycle running and a suicide note nearby.

Although at least two diocese officials said they urged Murphy to turn the computer over to police, Murphy told investigators he didn't recall those conversations.

A diocese computer technician downloaded materials from Ratigan's computer onto a flash drive and Finn eventually returned the laptop to Ratigan's brother, who destroyed it.

Ratigan recovered and was sent to a Pennsylvania psychiatrist who specializes in treating priests with mental issues.

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons reported to Finn that Ratigan was suffering from loneliness and depression caused in part because Hess, the school principal, was out to get him. But Fitzgibbons said Ratigan wasn't a pedophile.

Finn sent Ratigan to the Vincentian Mission House in Independence and set conditions for the priest, including not having contact with children and not using a computer.

Within a month after Ratigan moved to the mission house, reports started coming in that he was using Facebook and attending events where children were present. A federal indictment claims Ratigan attempted to produce child porn on Easter Sunday by taking pictures of a young girl aimed up her shorts during an Easter party at

the Vincentian House.

In early May, Smith was shocked when Murphy told him there had been hundreds of photos on Ratigan's laptop, rather than a single image. Smith demanded the computer be turned over to police. The diocese already had given the computer to the Ratigan family, but it handed over the flash drive.

Ratigan was charged with child pornography in Clay County on May 18.

Afterward, the diocese paid the Kansas City law firm of former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate its handling of sexual abuse claims.

Finn released a statement praising the report and noted that it had recommended hiring an ombudsman, which already had been done.

"Graves' recommendations are comprehensive, thoughtful and detailed," Finn said in the statement. "We understand their importance and are focusing on them so we establish clear, strong and unequivocal procedures for all diocesan personnel and volunteers that ensure the safety of our children today and into the future."

The report, however, said there had already been well-conceived policies for dealing with sex abuse claims but the diocese hadn't followed them.
 

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