Priest Charged with Possessing Child Pornography

By Glenn E. Rice
Kansas City Star
May 20, 2011


Clay County authorities on Thursday accused a 45-year-old priest of taking pornographic photos of children, in a case that church officials learned about in December but didn’t report to police until last week.

Shawn Francis Ratigan of Kansas City, North, was charged with three counts of possessing child pornography. Bond was set at $200,000.

Authorities allege that Ratigan took the photographs around churches and schools where he had worked in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He was arrested Wednesday at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist on Noland Road in Independence, where he had been living in a private priests’ residence.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said in a statement that it was “profoundly saddened.”

“First and foremost, the diocese is concerned for the safety and welfare of the unidentified children and their families,” the diocese said. “We acknowledge that the use of pornography is a very painful and corrosive influence in our culture, and we pray for the recovery of any child who has been exploited in this manner.”

When asked why the diocese didn’t notify authorities until Friday, diocese officials said they consulted with legal counsel and “took appropriate steps based on the facts as we knew them.”

“The diocese initiated the investigation by turning over the images that we had obtained to the KCPD, which prompted a broader investigation,” said Rebecca Summers, diocese spokeswoman.

Jim Roberts, a spokesman for the Clay County prosecutor’s office, said prosecutors did not know why the church didn’t immediately give the images to law enforcement. He said the investigation was continuing and involved multiple law enforcement agencies.

Prosecutor Daniel L. White said his office filed charges within three hours of receiving the case file from police on Thursday.

The images included pictures of girls as young as 3 or 4 and other photos taken up the skirts of girls under the age of 12, according to court documents.

The diocese said Ratigan served as associate pastor at St. Thomas More Parish in Kansas City from June 2004 to June 2005; as parochial administrator at St. Mary Parish in St. Joseph and St. Joseph Mission in Easton from July 2005 to June 2009; and as associate pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City from July 2009 to December 2010.

According to court documents:

On Dec. 16, a computer repair technician found images of child pornography on Ratigan’s laptop computer after he took it in for repairs. The technician returned the computer to the church and told church officials what he’d found. Church officials gave the computer to the diocese computer expert for review.

The next day, Ratigan failed to show up for 8:30 a.m. Mass. When church officials and emergency workers went to his apartment in the 3800 block of North Forest Avenue, they found Ratigan unconscious in his closed garage with his motorcycle running. A suicide note inside the apartment stated that he was sorry “to the kids and his family” for any harm, according to court records. Ratigan was hospitalized for psychiatric care.

The diocese made a copy of the images found on the laptop and then gave the laptop to Ratigan’s family, who destroyed it, according to court records.

Last Friday, almost five months after learning of the images, the diocese took a disk to Kansas City police detectives, who reviewed it and found photos that had been taken with various digital cameras and a cell phone.

Since January, Ratigan has lived at the priests’ residence in Independence, the diocese said. He said Mass for the Franciscan Sisters, an order of religious women.

“As a community of faith, we are called to protect the life and dignity of all people, especially children who are vulnerable,” the diocese statement said. “Preventing and reporting the suspicion of abuse is a required response to what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.”

Police said they have identified several minor females who were photographed and are interviewing them.

The church in St. Joseph where Ratigan previously worked provided a desktop computer to detectives on Monday. Detectives found similar images on that computer, according to court records.

Church officials identified the computer as Ratigan’s personal computer while he worked at the church.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group for child victims of sexual abuse by clergy, issued a statement calling on people with information in the case to contact law enforcement.

“Kansas City Catholic officials have a lot of explaining to do about why they kept these allegations and suspicions quiet for months, and why they gave … (Ratigan’s) computer to his family instead of to the police,” SNAP said.

Ratigan had more than 750 friends on his Facebook page when the charges were announced. As word spread Thursday, the number started to drop.

“It’s a shock to me,” said Vic Terranella, a parishioner at St. Patrick. “We never dreamed of this. He was a real nice guy.”

The Star’s Laura Bauer contributed to this report. To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.