Catholic Church Needs a Shift in Attitudes, or Nothing Will Change

By Mary Sanchez
Kansas City Star
May 29, 2011

"With all due respect," is how any deriding of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is expected to begin.

Questioning those deemed above your reach usually entails some sort of genuflection. Not this time.

The expectation of unconditional respect is part of the problem with continuing cases of suspected pedophilia by priests. Parishioners are to respectfully concede to the authority of the church, believing it will act appropriately.

Yet Bishop Robert Finn apologized twice last week for failures to properly investigate and fully involve police in the case of yet another priest charged with criminal behavior. The Rev. Shawn Ratigan is charged with possessing pornographic photos of children taken around churches and schools.

"As bishop, I owe it to people to say, 'Things must change,' " Finn said.

Agreed. But not just "things" as in policy and reporting methods must change. Attitudes have to change.

The diocese can make any number of new policies and procedures. It probably will, with the best of intentions. But unless the attitudes of the people expected to abide by such policies are altered, nothing will truly change.

Without such a shift, people will find a way to shelter priests, the image of the church, above keeping children safe.

I'm not suggesting Bishop Finn or anyone with authority in the diocese intentionally wishes harm to children. Of course they do not.

But basic questions have not been answered.

How did Vicar General Robert Murphy justify simply giving Ratigan a good talking to after reading a detailed letter from the principal of the parochial school where he served?

How did its contents not call for more dramatic action?

The diocese apparently believed that Ratigan could change.

The diocese thought it could handle such a grave matter internally, without fully engaging law enforcement until much later. That's a dangerous belief system.

The five-page letter does not contain the worries of just one or two concerned parents, or a few teachers. It describes incident after red flag incident, along with numerous parents and teachers expressing deep concerns with how Ratigan conducted himself around children.

The teaching staff mobilized to protect the children from what they feared of this priest. Their actions should have been supported by the diocese, not seemingly deflected.

I cringe whenever I hear someone use these cases to doubt God. As if no priest ever accomplished anything good, no churchgoer ever rightly put their heart into their church community.

There is nothing wrong with God, with the presence of faith. It is humans, including some of the highest authority figures, who are failing the Catholic Church.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to


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