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6/6/2011 11:21:00 AM
KC bishop apologizes for response to priest accused in child porn case
Bishop Robert Finn
Bishop Robert Finn
Catholic News Service

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Officials in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are being faulted by parishioners and media for failing to more vigorously pursue allegations of suspicious and improper behavior made against a priest now charged with possession of child pornography.

In a message read at parish Masses June 4 and 5 and in a number of forums in late May, Bishop Robert W. Finn expressed regret for the way the diocese handled information it received about the activities of Father Shawn Ratigan.

"As bishop I take full responsibility for these failures and sincerely apologize to you for them. Clearly, we have to do more. Please know that we have — and will continue to cooperate with all local authorities regarding these matters," Bishop Finn said in the message read at Masses.

"These past few weeks all of us have endured the consequences of our human failure," he said. "The destructive sins of a few and the serious lapses in communication have cause us shame, anger and confusion." He acknowledged there are victims who "are hurting, and others who have been left vulnerable by our processes."

Bishop Finn noted the diocese had removed a second priest from ministry June 2 while it investigates allegations of misconduct against him stemming from the 1970s and '80, but said that priest, Father Michael Tierney, and Father Ratigan "are the first sitting pastors to be removed in our diocese in more than 20 years."

At a May 22 news conference about the Ratigan case, the bishop said he would expand the role of the diocesan Independent Review Board to include receiving and evaluating reports of misconduct which fall outside the scope set by the U.S. bishops for such boards in their 2002 Dallas "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

In addition, Bishop Finn said he will consult with others to determine how best to change the internal structure and procedures of the diocesan curia to more effectively respond to reports of improper conduct by diocesan clergy and employees.

"Things must change. I also have to change," Bishop Finn said.

In mid-December 2010, a laptop belonging to Father Ratigan, then pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Butler, was turned in to diocesan officials after a computer technician found disturbing photos on the hard drive.

The photos included pictures of female children at parish events, including one of a naked female child who was not identifiable.

Msgr. Robert Murphy, diocesan vicar general, then called a ranking Kansas City police officer and described this photo. In addition, the photos were provided to diocesan legal counsel. Both the police officer and legal counsel opined that the photos did not constitute child pornography as they did not contain sexual conduct or contact as defined by Missouri law.

On the same day, Father Ratigan was told to appear the next day at the chancery. Instead, the next morning he was found unconscious in his garage with his motorcycle running.

When Father Ratigan regained consciousness several days later, he was placed in a psychiatric unit to minimize the chances of a further suicide attempt. According to a May 20 statement by Bishop Finn, Ratigan was then sent for further psychiatric evaluation out of state.

Although physically recovered, Father Ratigan was not allowed to return to St. Patrick and he was removed from pastoral duties there. After various evaluations and a stay at his mother's house, in mid-February the priest was allowed live and pay rent at a Vincentian priest residence.

According to Bishop Finn, Father Ratigan was allowed to celebrate Mass at the adjacent Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist community but was otherwise restricted in his activities. He was not allowed a camera or computer and was not allowed to attend events where children were present.

On May 12, after repeated reports that Father Ratigan had violated these restrictions, Msgr. Murphy relayed ongoing concerns about the priest to the same police officer he had contacted earlier, who facilitated a report to the Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit.

According to a report prepared by Detective Maggie McGuire of the unit, Father Ratigan was taken into custody May 18 and kept on an investigative hold.

After a search of his family's home turned up a disk and hard drive with 18 different images of child pornography, Father Ratigan was charged with three counts of possession of child pornography in Clay County.

At a May 20 forum with St. Patrick parishioners, it became apparent numerous parents and school administrators had long harbored suspicions about Father Ratigan's conduct around children, concerns that were expressed in a May 2010 memo by the principal.

Bishop Finn said he had read that memo for the first time when it was released by the press this May. Asked what he felt after reading it, he said: "From a human standpoint, I felt great shame. I was ashamed at the fact we had not done enough to respond to that."

"I believe that the study and the adjustments that we are going to have to make as a diocese may be comparable to the changes our country had to make after 9/11," Bishop Finn told The Catholic Key, Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan newspaper. "Our desire, our determination, our attitude, all these things have to change."

In his message read June 4 and 5 during parish Masses, Bishop Finn said he would celebrate Mass on Pentecost Sunday, June 9, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception "for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this local church, that God may give us whatever gifts and graces we need to carry forward his commission."

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