Bishop Again Says He Regrets Response to Priest in Child Porn Case

By Glenn E. Rice and Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star
May 28, 2011

[with video]

[Statement by Bishop Robert W. Finn]

For the second time in a week, Bishop Robert Finn said Friday that he regretted not responding to warnings about a priest now accused of possessing child pornography.

“I must also acknowledge my own failings,” said the deflated leader of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph as he read from a brief statement during a hastily called news conference.

“As bishop, I owe it to people to say things must change.”

On May 20, Finn issued a statement saying he deeply regretted not asking police to investigate the Rev. Shawn Ratigan last December when the diocese first learned of photos of children that Ratigan possessed.

This week it came to light that Julie Hess, principal of St. Patrick School in Kansas City, North, wrote a memo a year ago warning diocesan officials that parents and teachers were concerned about Ratigan’s behavior, including hundreds of pictures that the priest took.

Finn revealed Friday that it was only the previous night when he read the memo detailing Ratigan’s troubling behavior.

Also Friday, the chairman of the diocese’s review board — which is charged with advising the bishop on sex abuse allegations — said he had heard nothing of the memo until it was circulated this week. He told The Star that the board only learned of the case against Ratigan last week when the criminal charges were filed.

“I was flabbergasted,” said Jim Caccamo, who said he has been inundated with calls from angry Catholics.

“To learn that they’ve known this for well over a year and then not tell the Independent Review Board, I must say that it just took my breath away. If our job is to protect the children, didn’t that occur to them? For gosh sakes.”

Ratigan, 45, of Kansas City, North, was charged last week with three counts of possessing child pornography taken around churches and schools where he had worked. Some of the photos were “up-skirt” images of clothed girls ages 12 and younger, according to court documents, and at least one nude photo focused on a girl’s genitals.

He pleaded not guilty to those charges Monday in Clay County court. He remains in custody on $200,000 bond.

Ratigan’s attorney, John P. O’Connor, declined comment Friday.

Finn told reporters that the memo was given in May 2010 to Monsignor Robert Murphy, the vicar general of the diocese. In the following days, Finn said, Murphy gave him a brief verbal summary of the memo and of a meeting that Murphy had with Ratigan after receiving the report.

“Monsignor Murphy told me that he had thoroughly discussed these concerns with Shawn Ratigan and how he was to change his behavior,” Finn said. “Shawn Ratigan expressed the willingness and the desire to make these changes.”

Finn said he did not believe that anyone else on the diocesan staff read the memo.

“Hindsight makes it clear that I should have requested from Monsignor Murphy an actual copy of the report,” he said.

A diocesan spokeswoman said Murphy was not available for comment on Friday.

Finn said the memo highlighted a “multitude of inappropriate behavior.” When he read it, he said, “from a human standpoint, I felt great shame. I was ashamed at the fact we had not done enough to respond to that.”

In her memo, Hess described a number of occasions where staff members said Ratigan behaved inappropriately around children. For example, during a field trip in May 2010, Ratigan allegedly allowed a fourth-grade girl to sit on his lap and lean her body against him.

Another time, a parent said she found “a pair of girl’s panties inside one of the planters in Ratigan’s back yard,” the memo said.

Finn said that at the time the diocese received the report more than a year ago, “we had no knowledge of any inappropriate photographs or images in Shawn Ratigan’s possession.”

Those were not discovered until December 2010, Finn said. That’s when a technician fixing Ratigan’s laptop discovered them, according to court records.

The technician gave the laptop to church leaders, who in turn gave it to diocesan officials. Finn has said the diocese contacted a police officer and described one of the more disturbing photos. The officer was not shown the photo or told there were other images.

The day after the church was notified about the images in December, Ratigan attempted suicide, according to court records. He received psychiatric care and later went into a private residence for priests in Independence operated by the Sisters of St. Francis. Finn ordered him to continue counseling and to stay away from children.

Finn said Friday that he has never seen the pictures.

Caccamo said he believed the diocese misled the police officer when inquiring about the single image.

“I think he was given sort of like a spoonful, then asked to tell them whether it was really good,” he said. “He didn’t even taste the spoonful. He was told what the spoonful tasted like. He didn’t even see the picture.”

The lack of action by the diocese appears to violate several guidelines established by U.S. bishops in their 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The document calls for dioceses to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors to authorities, work with a review board to assess allegations of sexual abuse of minors, and be “open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy.”

Diocesan spokeswoman Rebecca Summers said the diocese did not violate the policy on notifying its review board

“The Independent Review Board hears a complaint from a person who says they have been victimized,” Summers said. “We could not determine the identity of the child.”

But Finn said the failure to report the allegations to authorities would be included in the diocese’s review of its procedures.

“In hindsight, we should have turned the pictures over to police in December,” he said. “In hindsight, I should have consulted with the Independent Review Board to help me evaluate these situations.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declined comment on the specifics of the case.

“It will have to be looked at carefully — what happened, who knew what when,” said Mary Jane Doerr with the USCCB Office of Child and Youth Protection.

Doerr said the organization conducts annual audits of every diocese but has no enforcement authority.

Caccamo said he met with Finn about his concerns this week.

“What I’m suggesting to the bishop and to my fellow board members is that we really begin acting prospectively,” he said. “What would have happened in December if we had been asked what we should do? My guess is that we would have a different outcome than we have today.”

Caccamo said the review board will meet Wednesday to discuss the issue. He said he has been swamped with responses from area Catholics since Ratigan was charged last week.

“Part of what I’ve done over the last five, six days is listen to Catholics who have called me and sent me e-mails,” he said.

Ratigan was at St. Patrick Parish in the Northland for about a year and at St. Mary Church in St. Joseph before that. Parents of children at St. Patrick’s School expressed outrage Friday after learning about the year-old memo.

“I am deeply disappointed with the diocese, and it seems clear that there was willful ignorance going on here,” said Matthew Copple of Gladstone. “It made me very relieved because Ms. Hess and the teachers were keeping an eagle eye on Ratigan and trying to protect our children.”

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) announced Friday that it is holding an open meeting next week in Kansas City, North, to discuss the issue. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Kansas City North Community Center.

“We’re hearing from dozens of really upset parishioners who justifiably feel betrayed and outraged,” said Barbara Dorris, SNAP’s outreach director.

Finn said Friday that he has met with parishioners from St. Patrick Church, as well as priests, diocesan staff and the review board chairman.

“As a result of these meetings, I have asked the Independent Review Board to expand its role in receiving and evaluating reports of misconduct with children,” he said.

Finn said he would be meeting with others to determine how best to change the diocese’s internal controls.

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

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send e-mail to


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