Bishop regrets how diocese dealt with porn case involving priest

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The Kansas City Star

21 May 2011

By LAURA BAUER and GLENN E. RICE

 Finn
Finn

One day after prosecutors charged a Roman Catholic priest with possession of child pornography, Bishop Robert Finn said he knew about the “very troubling” images months ago but was told they weren’t pornography.

In a two-page explanation and statement of regret, Finn said Friday that when the images were discovered in December the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph contacted a Kansas City police officer and described one of the more disturbing photos. At the same time, someone with the diocese showed more images to legal counsel.

The bishop said he was told that both the officer and the lawyer said the images didn’t constitute child pornography because they didn’t depict sexual conduct or contact.

Five months later, after the Rev. Shawn Ratigan apparently failed to live up to restrictions that Finn put in place — mainly staying away from children — the diocese contacted police again.

“I deeply regret that we didn’t ask the police earlier to conduct a full investigation,” Finn said in the statement.

Many parents at St. Patrick Catholic Church, in Kansas City, North, where Ratigan was an associate pastor, didn’t learn of the allegations until late Thursday or Friday morning.

The church and its school held a meeting Friday evening to address their concerns.

Dozens attended the meeting — which lasted for at least two hours — and used words such as “debacle” and “cover-up” to describe their frustrations after it ended.

“It’s just common sense, you go to the police,” parishioner Randy Farrell said as he left the meeting.

Clay County prosecutors allege that Ratigan, 45, photographed several girls in and around churches where he had been associated over the years. He was at St. Patrick for about a year and at St. Mary church in St. Joseph before that.

Some of the photos were “up-skirt” images of clothed girls ages 12 and younger. At least one nude photo focused on the genitals of a girl.

Ratigan was arrested Wednesday at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist religious order in Independence, where he had been living in a private residence for priests. He has been charged with three counts of possession of child pornography and is being held on $200,000 bond.

The church was alerted to the problem in mid-December, when a technician fixing Ratigan’s laptop computer discovered the images, according to court documents. The technician gave the laptop to diocesan officials and told them what he’d found.

Finn’s statement says the diocese contacted a Kansas City police officer and described “one of the more disturbing images.” Rebecca Summers, diocese spokeswoman, said she didn’t know who the officer was, how the photo was described or which photo was described.

Capt. Steve Young, a police spokesman, said diocesan officials reached out to a ranking police officer who serves on a diocesan committee.

“They said: ‘We have a single image of a young naked girl on a computer, nothing sexual in nature. Is that child pornography?’ ” Young said.

The officer said no, Young said. He said there was no reason to release the officer’s name.

The officer was not shown the photo or told there were other images, Young said.

The day after the church was notified about the images, Ratigan attempted suicide. When he failed to show up at the church for Mass, church officials and emergency workers went to his apartment in the 3800 block of North Forest Avenue. They found Ratigan unconscious in his closed garage with his motorcycle running.

A suicide note in the apartment said he was sorry “to the kids and his family” for any harm, according to court records. Ratigan was hospitalized for psychiatric care.

Finn’s statement Friday reveals what happened next with Ratigan and what the diocese did.

After he underwent psychiatric care, Ratigan was sent out of state for a follow-up review. Ratigan then went to live with his mother until the diocese could find him a residence. He also was told to continue counseling and ordered not to be around children, Finn said.

“The Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist kindly agreed to have him assist them by saying Mass for the Sisters,” he said. “I restricted him from participating in or attending other events if there were children present.”

Ratigan lived at an adjoining property, the Vincentian Mission House, and was ordered to pay rent.

Finn said Ratigan did not have his computer or his camera during that time. Diocesan officials made copies of the images and in early March gave the laptop to Ratigan’s family members after they asked for it. The family destroyed the computer, according to court documents.

In late March, Finn said he received reports that Ratigan had violated some of the restrictions when he attended the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and met with friends and families. Ratigan also attended a child’s birthday party at the invitation of the youngster’s parents, Finn said.

“I confronted him about these things and told him again that he was not permitted to have any contact with minors,” he said.

Without providing specifics, Finn said Ratigan continued to disregard the requirements that the bishop had issued.

On May 12, Vicar General Monsignor Robert Murphy contacted the same police officer whom church officials had previously consulted. That officer then recommended that the diocese file a report with the Police Department’s Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit.

Finn said along with their report, diocesan officials provided cyber crimes investigators with the electronic images recovered from Ratigan’s computer in December.

A detective began conducting interviews and obtained a search warrant, which found additional alleged pornographic materials from Ratigan’s apartment that were being stored at a relative’s home.

Finn said the diocese did not know earlier about the material police recovered in the past week.

“Shawn Ratigan was a popular priest who had a large network of friends and was media savvy,” Finn said. “Many parents have called with deep concerns about their children who knew and trusted him.”

Jeanne Meyers, who has a child who attends St. Patrick’s School, said she thought the diocese did “what they thought was right at the time.” But she added, “I think everybody is shocked and scared about what we don’t know.”

Another parent also was concerned about how the church handled the situation.

“Why keep this to themselves for five months while the man is still out and free?” asked Matthew Copple, whose son also attends St. Patrick’s School. “What’s stopping him from doing this behavior again?”

Finn encouraged parents with concerns about their child’s contact with Ratigan to call Kansas City Police Detective Maggie McGuire at 816-584-6633.

“As a people of faith, in times of difficulty we rely on prayer and God’s grace to fortify our human efforts,” Finn said in his statement. “I pray that the strong anger, shame, disappointment and fear that so many are feeling will be helped by our trust in Him.”

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