|Victim Files Lawsuit against Diocese, Priest
By Kim Norvell
St. Joseph News-Press
June 2, 2011
[Read the full lawsuit here]
A minor female and her parents filed a civil lawsuit Thursday against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Bishop Robert Finn and Rev. Shawn Ratigan alleging the priest took nude, pornographic images of the young girl.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, alleges that beginning in 2006, Ratigan took photographs of the minor female engaged in sexually explicit conduct, images that displayed her underwear, as well as nude images. The suit also names Bishop Finn and diocesan officials, claiming they concealed the sexually explicit photos taken by the priest.
Read the full lawsuit here
“They failed to not only protect the children and this child, but they allowed this predator, Father Shawn Ratigan, to access children with what we believe sufficient knowledge to have not only removed him but to have reported him,” said Jeff Anderson, lawyer of Minnesota-based firm Jeff Anderson & Associates, which has filed thousands of priest sex abuse cases.
The plaintiff asks for damages on eight counts, including producing and creating child pornography, possessing and distributing child pornography, invasion of privacy, child sexual abuse and negligence.
The suit claims top officials violated federal child pornography laws, specifically Masha’s Law, which gives victims the right to sue anyone who fails to report sexually explicit images of children. One count alleges the diocese and the bishop received and distributed child pornography.
“They had access and they in fact made copies of the pornography that they pulled off of Ratigan’s computer in December of 2010, and they possessed that for six months before turning it over to law enforcement authorities. They also distributed it to different people along the way,” said Pat Noaker, lawyer for Jeff Anderson & Associates.
According to court documents, diocesan officials knew of the pornographic images on Ratigan’s computer in December when an IT person discovered them while repairing his machine.
The lawsuit also claims the diocese knew of suspicions against Ratigan as early as 2006, when a diocesan employee reported suspicious behavior involving Ratigan and a 4-year-old girl. The report was concealed in order to protect him and the diocese, the lawsuit alleged.
In 2008, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, entered into a settlement agreement with 47 individuals who claimed to have been abused by priests. As part of the settlement, the diocese agreed it would take certain steps to protect children, including immediately reporting abuse or suspicions of abuse to law enforcement.
“We were negotiating an agreement in 2008, and here we find out that there have already been allegations against a priest even prior to that, and certainly within the time frame that they’re still paying for counseling, they’re still sending out apology letters – at the very same time,” said Rebecca Randles, of Randles, Mata & Brown, a Kansas City law firm serving as a co-counsel on the current lawsuit.
In a press conference Friday, Bishop Finn acknowledged he failed to take proper and timely action regarding the allegations, and said he did not read a memo sent by the principal of Kansas City’s St. Patrick Catholic School in May 2010 in its entirety until last week.
The diocese did not respond to media questions regarding the lawsuit, but sent a statement, saying “First and foremost, the diocese is deeply concerned for the well-being of this child and her family. We urge anyone within the community who has information about the actions of Shawn Ratigan to make a confidential report.”
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the organization, which is an independent, anonymous support group, has received several phone calls from parents and victims with concerns regarding Ratigan. At least two of those calls were confirmed from the St. Joseph area.
Mr. Clohessy said SNAP “firmly believes” there are other persons who knew of Ratigan’s crimes, were victims of Ratigan’s crimes or knew of cover-ups by clergy officials. He said those who believe they or their children may have been harmed are encouraged to call “anyone but church officials,” whether that be law enforcement, therapists or SNAP members.
“If this brave family, who’s young daughter was sexually violated, can find the courage and strength to take action to protect others, then we call upon every current and former church member and church employee to speak up,” Mr. Clohessy said.
SNAP members have expressed concerns regarding a trip to Guatemala that Ratigan took with 12 students from Bishop LeBlond High School in 2007. While there is no official record of exploitation during the trip, Mr. Clohessy is encouraging anyone who went to Guatemala to report any suspicious behaviors between Ratigan, the high school students or anyone else he had contact with.
Ratigan was charged last month in Clay County on three counts of possessing child pornography. Court documents state Ratigan possessed “up-skirt” and nude photos taken in and around the churches and schools he was associated with. He pleaded not-guilty to the charges and remains in custody on a $200,000 cash bond.
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.
Kim Norvell can be reached at email@example.com
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