Priest Sentenced to 50 Years
By Kim Norvell
St. Joseph News-Press
September 12, 2013
A local priest, described by a judge as a deviant pedophile, has been sentenced to 50 years in federal prison.
The Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan learned his fate Thursday afternoon, more than a year after he pleaded guilty to five counts of producing or attempting to produce child pornography, and more than two years after his initial arrest. Each count represented the five victims.
The nearly two-hour sentencing hearing was filled with emotion as U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner was shown photographic evidence of the young girls; parents of a young victim gave an impact statement; and Rev. Ratigan pleaded for a lesser sentence.
Mr. Fenner ultimately sided with Assistant U.S. Attorney Katharine Fincham, who recommended the 50-year prison term — a virtual life sentence for the 47-year-old. There’s no parole in the federal prison system.
“You abused authority in a matter that is as offensive and as difficult to understand as any,” Mr. Fenner said. “ … Society needs to be protected from you.”
Rev. Ratigan was first arrested in May 2011, when officials found thousands of lewd images of girls, ages 2 to 12 years old, on his laptop and cellphone. Officials say the victims were parishioners at the various churches and schools where he worked.
One such image, an up-skirt shot of a 2-year-old girl, was taken in the choir loft at St. Joseph Mission in Easton, Mo., where he served as the parochial administrator from July 2005 to June 2009. In that time, he also served at St. Mary’s Church in St. Joseph and as chaplain at Bishop LeBlond High School. He later moved to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kansas City.
It was the parents of that 2-year-old victim who tearfully gave a victim impact statement, calling Rev. Ratigan a “monster” who caused their family much hurt and anger.
“My family has suffered so many different ways. Our baby, our little girl, has suffered so many different emotions,” the mother said. “ … We watched our happy, outgoing, vibrant girl grow depressed, withdrawn, terrified and anxious.”
The mother of Jane Doe No. 2 described receiving a picture of her daughter in their church, taken by Rev. Ratigan, which he described as “precious.” She later found out it was one in a series of photos taken of the toddler, including one focused on her vaginal area with her legs spread apart.
“Our children should never in their lifetime have to fear this man again,” she said.
The reverend remained stoic in an orange jumpsuit, with arms and legs shackled, until he was allowed to speak on his own behalf.
He asked the judge to help him avoid serving “life in Hell on Earth” by imposing only a 15-year sentence – the minimum under statutory guidelines.
Rev. Ratigan spent his short statement apologizing to his family, the church and his victims. He also acknowledged his crimes, and the need to serve time in prison.
“There’s no words that I can express to tell you my sorrow, but it’s there,” he said, his voice wavering. “They were my close friends. I just couldn’t help it.”
He added, “The people I was supposed to protect and help, I let down. I know that.”
Defense attorney Robert Kuchar argued that Rev. Ratigan’s remorse should weigh heavily on the judge’s sentence, saying even the minimum of 15 years would impact his life if he takes into account his age and health problems. While in prison, Rev. Ratigan was diagnosed with pedophilia, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Mr. Kuchar said. He also has diabetes and high blood pressure.
“It’s obvious and clear Mr. Ratigan committed these crimes that are unacceptable and morally reprehensible,” he said. “ … But I think he’s cured now. He’s had a lot of time to think about this.”
Ms. Fincham, on the other hand, recommended the 50-year sentence in order to “protect society” from his “uncontrollable sexual obsession with pre-pubescent girls.”
Judge Fenner, who commended Rev. Ratigan for not putting his victims through trial, agreed.
He sentenced the priest to 15 years on two counts and 20 years on one, to be served consecutively. The other two counts were each 15 years, to be served concurrently.
If Rev. Ratigan is to live out his sentence, he will be placed on supervised release for the remainder of his life. He requested placement in Tucson, Ariz.
The Rev. Ratigan’s case created turmoil in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, when it was made public that diocesan officials knew of the pornographic images on his laptop, but did not immediately inform police. Bishop Robert Finn was found guilty last September of failure to report abuse, a misdemeanor. He was ordered to serve two years probation.
The diocese did not immediately provide a statement on Rev. Ratigan’s sentence.
Kim Norvell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPNorvell.