|Bishop Releases Statement on Priest’s Charges
By Karl Zinke
May 21, 2011
The Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Friday defended the Catholic diocese’s actions in the child pornography case involving a priest living in Independence.
Shawn Francis Ratigan, 45, who was living at the Vincentian Mission House next to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist convent on Noland Road, was arrested Wednesday by Jackson County Sheriff’s Office deputies and charged in Clay County court with three counts of possessing child porn.
Ratigan is being held on bail set at $200,000.
According to court documents, the diocese was first notified of images of a pornographic nature on Ratigan’s laptop in December. Kansas City police detectives received a disk of the images on May 13.
Court documents said a computer repair person working on Ratigan’s laptop in December located pornographic images of girls under the age of 12, including ones that “appeared to be up-skirt pictures covertly taken.”
The way the diocese handled Ratigan’s case was criticized by at least one group, SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, on Thursday. Peter Isely of Milwaukee, a SNAP national board member, said in a statement on Thursday: “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 this accused sex offender priest’s computer to his family instead of the police.”
Bishop Robert W. Finn responded Friday, explaining his and the diocese’s actions in the case and apologizing.
“I deeply regret that we didn’t ask the police earlier to conduct a full investigation,” Finn said.
Finn said he first contacted Kansas City police in December about the matter.
“At the same time the diocese showed the images to legal counsel,” Finn said in his statement. “In both instances we were told that, while very troubling, the photographs did not constitute child pornography as they did not depict sexual conduct or contact.”
After the diocese learned of the images, Finn said Ratigan attempted suicide and was hospitalized out of state for psychiatric care. Court documents said Ratigan was discovered unconscious in his closed garage with his motorcycle running.
After Ratigan returned from his psychiatric care, Finn said Ratigan was kept away from children.
“When he returned, Shawn stayed at his mother’s home for a while, until I could determine a place where he could reside, continue counseling, and not be around children,” Finn said in his statement. “The Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist kindly agreed to have him assist them by saying Mass for the Sisters. I restricted him from participating in or attending other events if there were children present. He lived at an adjoining property, the Vincentian Mission House, and paid rent. He did not have his computer or his camera in his possession during this period.”
Finn said he learned in March that Ratigan was violating conditions of his stay.
“I was told that he attended a St. Patrick Day Parade and met with friends and families. He also attended a child’s birthday party at the invitation of the child’s parents,” Finn said in his statement. “I confronted him about these things, and told him again that he was not permitted to have any contact with minors.
“When Shawn continued to disregard these requirements, on May 12 ,Vicar General Monsignor Robert Murphy contacted the same police officer previously consulted to discuss his concerns. That officer facilitated our report to the Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit. Along with our report, we provided the electronic images that we had received in December. Detective Maggie McGuire began an investigation. In the past week she conducted interviews and, pursuant to a search warrant, found additional materials, which had never been in our possession and which we did not know existed, and which are alleged to constitute child pornography.”
According to court documents, on May 16, a St. Joseph, Mo., church where Ratigan had previously worked provided a desktop computer to detectives and more pornographic images were discovered.
Police also obtained a bag and a backpack containing camera equipment. A compact disc and flash drive containing pornographic images were inside the bags.
Police said several of the girls in the photos have been identified and are being interviewed.
Ratigan, according to diocese spokesperson Becky Summers, worked at two Kansas City churches and two others starting in 2004. From June 2004 to June 2005, he was an associate pastor at St. Thomas More Parish in Kansas City. From July 2005 to June 2009, he was a parochial administrator at St. Mary Parish in St. Joseph and St. Joseph Parish in Easton, Mo. From July 2009 to December 2010, he was pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City.
“Shawn Ratigan was a popular priest who had a large network of friends, and was media savvy,” Finn said in his statement. “Many parents have called with deep concerns about their children who knew and trusted him. To any parents who have any questions or concerns about contact between their children and Shawn Ratigan, I recommend that you contact Detective McGuire ( 816-584-6633 ).
“As a people of faith, in times of difficulty we rely on prayer and God’s grace to fortify our human efforts. I pray that the strong anger, shame, disappointment and fear that so many are feeling will be helped by our trust in Him.”
SNAP director David Clohessy of St. Louis issued a statement Friday again criticizing the diocese.
“We feel very sad for Kansas City Catholics whose trust in their church hierarchy has once again been betrayed by officials who evidently care more about their reputations than about public safety,” Clohessy said.
“Even more, our hearts ache for these girls and their families. And we feel deeply sorry for current and former parishioners at each church where Fr. Ratigan worked,” Clohessy added. “Every person who spent time near Ratigan should talk with their kids about child porn and child sexual abuse. These are painful but crucial conversations. And anyone who saw, suspected or suffered anything inappropriate by Ratigan should find the courage to call police immediately, so that the investigation can quickly proceed and the wrongdoers can be severely punished.”
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