Bishop Says Policies Must Change

By Kim Norvell
St. Joseph News-Press
May 27, 2011

Bishop Robert Finn of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph speaks at a press conference Friday afternoon in Kansas City.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. The bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph acknowledged Friday he failed to take correct action regarding allegations against a former St. Joseph area priest who is now charged with possessing child pornography.

Read Bishop Robert Finn's statement here.

The Most Rev. Robert W. Finn said to reporters Friday afternoon at a last-minute press conference that allegations against the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan were not handled properly and in a timely manner.

"During the last two weeks, I have learned facts that I had not previously known. As bishop, I owe it to people to say things must change," Finn said. "I must also acknowledge my own failings."

The bishop was referring to a memorandum sent in May 2010 by the principal of St. Patrick School in Kansas City describing concerns from parents regarding Ratigan's behavior at school, and that his actions "fit the profile of a child predator."

The memo states Ratigan does not observe proper physical boundaries with children, even allowing one fourth-grade girl to "sit on his lap and lean her body back against him." The principal further outlines incidents and general concerns reported to her by parents, one of which alleges that a mother found a pair of girls' panties in Ratigan's garden and that his home is "very kid friendly," with giant stuffed animals and hand towels shaped like doll clothes.

According to Finn, Monsignor Robert Murphy, the vicar general of the diocese, provided the bishop a verbal summary of the principal's allegations against Ratigan a year ago, but the bishop said he did not read the full memo until Thursday night.

Read the full memo outlining allegations against Rev. Shawn Ratigan here.

"Msgr. Murphy told me that he had thoroughly discussed these concerns with Shawn Ratigan, and how he was to change his behaviors. Shawn Ratigan expressed both willingness and the desire to make these changes," the bishop said.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), released the full memo to the media Thursday afternoon, the same day Finn said he read the memo in its entirety.

"More than a year ago, and more than six months before he tried to commit suicide and was caught with child porn, top K.C. diocesan staff knew of serious, credible complaints and concerns by teachers and parents about Ratigan. Yet inexplicably, the church hierarchy apparently took no action to protect kids or get help for Ratigan," said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of SNAP, in a written statement.

Ratigan, 45, was charged May 19 with three counts of possession of child pornography after Kansas City, Mo., police were notified of child pornography found on his computer by a technician in December. Bishop Finn said no one in the diocese knew about the pornographic images, which police say included photos of nude girls and up-skirt photos taken in and around the schools and churches with which Ratigan associated, when the principal presented her concerns. Ratigan was the parochial administrator for both St. Mary Church in St. Joseph and St. Joseph Mission in Easton, Mo., from July 2005 to June 2009.

"In hindsight, I should have asked for an actual copy of the memo. In hindsight, we should have turned the pictures over to police in December, we should have taken the same action in December that we ended up taking in May. In hindsight, I could have consulted with the Independent Review Board to help me evaluate these situations," the bishop said.

He said in response to this "troubling" situation, he has asked the Independent Review Board to expand its role in evaluating reports of misconduct with children. He also promised to change the diocesan internal structure, reporting and procedures when it comes to allegations against any member of the diocese.

"The changes could be unsettling, but more than ever I realize they are necessary," he said.

Finn declined to elaborate further on how changes will be made, if any consequences will be met for him or Msgr. Murphy, or if he's had any contact with Ratigan.

SNAP members said they decided to release the memo to bring to light how the diocese chooses to handle reports of child sex crimes.

"We hope this memo will put to rest any lingering naive hopes that the diocese is willing or able to reform itself. We hope it will inspire others with information or suspicions about clergy sexual misdeeds to call police, prosecutors, therapists and support groups, rather than church officials," the SNAP statement reads. Ratigan pleaded not guilty to all three charges Monday in Clay County circuit court. He remains in custody on a $200,000 cash bond.


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