|Diocese Was Warned in 2006 about Priest Now Facing Child Porn Charges, Lawsuit Alleges
By Judy L. Thomas and Glenn E. Rice
Kansas City Star
June 3, 2011
Local Roman Catholic officials were warned in 2006 about a priest now accused of possessing child pornography yet took no action, a lawsuit filed in federal court Thursday alleges.
The lawsuit, filed by the parents of a young girl, also alleges that beginning around 2006 and continuing through 2010 the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan took photographs underneath her clothing and while the child was nude.
Lawyers for the child’s family said the photographs were taken while Ratigan was assigned in St. Joseph.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, names Ratigan, Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph as defendants.
“Another child has been harmed, and more children have been harmed, and this diocese has failed to protect the children,” Jeff Anderson of the Minnesota law firm of Anderson & Associates said in a news conference in Kansas City.
The diocese issued a brief statement in response to the lawsuit.
“First and foremost, the diocese is deeply concerned for the well-being of this child and her family,” the statement said. “The bishop has reached out to a number of parishes and offered listening sessions.”
Ratigan, 45, of Kansas City, North, was charged last month by Clay County authorities with three counts of possessing child pornography — photos taken while working for churches and schools in the area. Ratigan has pleaded not guilty to those charges and remains in custody on $200,000 bond.
The diocese already had acknowledged that a principal of a Catholic school in Kansas City, North, had warned diocesan officials a year ago of Ratigan’s troubling behavior around girls.
But the lawsuit alleges that as far back as 2006 an employee of the diocese reported to diocesan officials that she observed suspicious behavior involving Ratigan and a young girl. The lawsuit alleges that the diocese and Finn protected themselves and Ratigan from scandal by doing nothing with the report.
The plaintiff’s lawyers would not provide further details about the 2006 report, including who made it or specifically to whom it was given.
The lawsuit alleges Ratigan took sexually explicit photographs, uploaded them to his computer and distributed them over the Internet. It also contends that Finn and the diocese possessed and distributed child pornography by viewing and making copies of Ratigan’s photos.
The lawsuit seeks damages, including expenses incurred for medical treatment of the girl.
Two law firms announced the legal action Thursday at a news conference.
Anderson’s firm was joined by the Kansas City firm of Randles, Mata & Brown, which has filed dozens of priest sex-abuse lawsuits. Anderson & Associates has filed about 2,000 priest sex-abuse lawsuits across the country.
The diocese “allowed this predator, Father Shawn Ratigan, to access children with what we believe is sufficient knowledge to not only have removed him but to have reported him,” Anderson said.
Ratigan’s attorney, John P. O’Connor, declined to comment.
One case handled by the Randles firm involved 47 plaintiffs and resulted in a $10 million settlement against the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese in 2008.
Rebecca Randles said the diocese entered an agreement with the plaintiffs when it settled that lawsuit.
“As part of the agreement, the diocese agreed that they would take certain steps to ensure that children were safe from now on,” she said.
Those steps, she said, included setting up victims’ advocacy programs and immediately reporting any abuse or suspicion of abuse to law enforcement authorities in accordance with Missouri statutes.
“Our clients are incredibly upset. They’re angry, and they’re very sad that the steps they took to try to protect children for the future simply seemed to fall on deaf ears,” Randles said. “At the time we negotiated those settlements, the bishop and the monsignor were in the mediations listening to those stories of abuse, listening to the lives that were shattered.”
Pat Noaker, of Anderson & Associates, told The Star that the FBI was investigating the case and that the girl’s family had been cooperating with the agency. Authorities in Buchanan County, where St. Joseph is located, also said the FBI was investigating.
FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said she could neither confirm nor deny whether the agency was looking into the Ratigan case.
Ratigan was charged last month, although church officials had learned about several questionable photos in mid-December when a technician fixing Ratigan’s laptop computer discovered them, according to court documents.
The diocese did not officially notify police until May 13.
Noaker said the lawsuit was alleging that the diocese possessed and distributed child pornography because “they had access, and they in fact made copies of the pornography that they pulled off Father Ratigan’s computer in December 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.”
The lawsuit cites Masha’s Law, a federal law enacted in 2006 that gives child-pornography victims the right to sue anyone who produces, downloads, distributes or possesses sexually explicit images of them.
The law was named after a girl from Russia who was adopted at age 5 by a man who sexually abused her and made recordings of it.
Victims can recover damages of no less than $150,000.
Randles told The Star that she also had been contacted by six members of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kansas City, North, who allege that their children are victims of Ratigan. He was at St. Patrick from July 2009 to December 2010.
Police have said they had contacted families at the church in an attempt to identify the girls in the photos. Lawyers in the case filed Thursday said that’s how their clients learned of the abuse.
The diocese on Thursday also asked for the public to help police with the case.
“We urge anyone within the community who has information about the actions of Shawn Ratigan to make a confidential report to (Kansas City police) Detective Maggie McGuire at (816) 584-6633,” according to the diocese’s statement.
Finn earlier expressed regret about the handling of the case.
Last week he acknowledged that he did not heed warnings about Ratigan’s past behavior.
Finn’s statement came after it was revealed that the principal of St. Patrick School in Kansas City, North, had given diocesan officials a memo more than a year ago detailing concerns teachers and parents had about Ratigan’s behavior and interactions with children, including hugging and touching that they considered inappropriate.
Finn said that Monsignor Robert Murphy, the diocese’s vicar general, briefed him about the memo last year but that he did not ask to read it. Finn said that when he finally read it last Thursday “I was ashamed at the fact we had not done enough to respond to that.”
Finn is to meet with members of St. Thomas More parish in south Kansas City at 7 p.m. today.
On Wednesday a review board established years ago by the diocese to assess sexual abuse allegations met privately for two hours and came up with a recommendation to deal with cases such as Ratigan’s.
Review board chairman Jim Caccamo and a diocesan spokeswoman said it would be up to the bishop whether to discuss the content of the proposal.
Thursday night dozens gathered at the Kansas City, North, Community Center to discuss the Ratigan case at a meeting organized by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The meeting was closed to the media “out of consideration for the privacy and feelings of parishioners,” SNAP leaders said. Organizers said there was a standing-room-only crowd.
“It’s packed,” said Judy Jones, SNAP’s Midwest associate director. “As you can imagine, things are pretty tense in there. People are very upset. Almost everyone is angry at the church officials.”
Stephanie Gunn, of St. Thomas More parish, said she was “sick and fed up of the whole situation.”
“I came here because I’m devastated,” she said. “I’m embarrassed, and I am so angry at the religious leaders of the Catholic Church. … They have put children’s lives in danger. They knew it, and they tried to sweep it under the covers like they have in the past.
“It’s not going to work this time. There are too many people who are fired up, and we intend to go as far as we can to remove these people from the diocese office.”
Gunn said numerous people talked about wanting the bishop to step down.
“They’re sick of it,” she said. “They’re not willing to listen to any more excuses.”
To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to email@example.com. To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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