Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to Pay for Failure to Report Abuse
Missouri Diocese To Pay $600,000 Settlement In Child Pornography Case
Posted: 05/17/2013 2:31 am EDT
By David Gibson
Religion News Service
(RNS) The Catholic diocese in Missouri led by Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted last year of failing to report a priest who was taking pornographic pictures of children, will pay a $600,000 settlement to the family of one of the priest’s victims.
The family filed the civil suit in federal court in 2011 against Finn, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., and the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who pleaded guilty last year to charges of producing child pornography.
Ratigan had taken hundreds of lewd and suggestive photos of young children; the lawsuit, which was settled on Tuesday (May 14), was filed by the parents of a girl who was 2 years old when Ratigan started photographing her in 2006.
“We hope this settlement comforts at least some of the many families who have suffered and are suffering because Bishop Robert Finn refused to call police, protect kids and monitor Father Shawn Ratigan,” said Barbara Dorris of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Last September, in an arrangement with prosecutors, Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of failing to report Ratigan to authorities as required by law. Finn and the diocese had received multiple complaints about Ratigan in the months preceding the priest’s arrest in 2011 and church officials had seen some of the pictures of children on his laptop computer in December 2010.
Despite calls for Finn to resign, he has remained as head of the diocese. Diocesan spokesman Jack Smith told The Kansas City Star that the payout would be covered by insurance.
The tab for Finn’s own defense amounted to $1.4 million, the diocese said last year, which was covered by insurance plus funds collected from parishes.
The judge in the civil lawsuit dismissed the claim that Finn and the diocese aided and abetted Ratigan in possessing pornography.
The diocese previously paid out $10 million in 2008 to settle cases by plaintiffs who alleged sexual abuse by 12 priests. It still faces dozens of other lawsuits related to abuse allegations against other priests.
Catholic Bishop becomes most senior U.S. clergyman to be
CONVICTED in child porn cover-up
Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn was found guilty on Thursday of one count of covering up child pornography, becoming the highest-ranking American cleric convicted in the Roman Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal.
Bishop Finn, 59, was charged in 2011 with two misdemeanor counts of failing to alert authorities about a cache of lewd images depicting young girls that were found on the computer of Reverend Shawn Ratigan.
Jackson County Court Judge John Torrence acquitted Finn on a second count of covering up child sex abuse.
Finn received two years of probation, but that sentence was suspended and will be wiped from his record if he adheres to a set of conditions that include mandatory abuse reporting training and setting aside $10,000 in diocese money for abuse victim counseling.
‘I hope this begins a new chapter in the book in this community and other communities and that, truly, children will no longer be subjected to this kind of treatment,’ the judge said.
In August, Ratigan pleaded guilty to five counts of producing child pornography in federal court. Eight other charges were dismissed.
The diocese was also charged with failure to report sex abuse and had faced a $5,000 fine, but the cases were separated on Thursday. Prosecutors said they are willing to drop charges against the diocese after the Finn verdict.
In a statement released after the verdict, lawyers for Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said that the bishop is grateful that the court and prosecutors have allowed the case to be resolved without bringing it before a jury.
‘The bench trial, with a stipulation of testimony, has avoided the need for live testimony from diocesan employees, parishioners and others. This process has also resulted in the charges against the Diocese being dismissed by the state,’ the statement reads.
‘The diocesan process and procedures as previously existed failed to adequately identify the necessity to inform the Children’s Division of Shawn Ratigan’s behavior in a more timely manner. For this, the bishop is truly sorry.’
Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney representing a dozen of Ratigan’s alleged victims in civil lawsuits, said it was ‘an amazing outcome, getting a bishop convicted of anything.
‘Of course we wish the diocese was also convicted, but we understand the process and how it works,’ she said.
Finn and several other officials within the diocese became aware of the pornographic photos depicting young girls allegedly taken by Ratigan in December of 2010 when they were discovered on the priest’s laptop by a computer technician.
Of the hundreds of photos found, many focused on the crotch areas of clothed children and one series showed the exposed private parts of a girl believed to be three or four years old.
Finn has acknowledged he was told in December of 2010 about the images. The bishop also has acknowledged that a parochial school principal had raised concerns about Ratigan’s behavior around children in May of 2010.
State law requires that the Division of Family Services be informed of such evidence of abuse.
Vicar General Robert Murphy confronted Ratigan about the photos, and the next day, Ratigan was found in his garage with his motorcycle running and a suicide note that apologized for any harm he had caused. Ratigan recovered after being hospitalized.
But even though Ratigan had acknowledged his wrongdoing, Finn did not notify law enforcement, according to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
Instead, Finn sent Ratigan for a mental evaluation and then assigned him to an area convent, ordering him to stay away from children.
Later, after the diocese received reports that Ratigan had attended a St. Patrick’s Day parade and a child’s birthday party in violation of the bishop’s orders, Finn asked a church official to hand over copies of the photos recovered from Ratigan’s laptop to police.
Following Ratigan’s arrest, Finn made a statement to a meeting with other priests that he had ‘wanted to save (Ratigan’s) priesthood,’ according to stipulations made at trial.
Finn was indicted almost a year ago and was slated to face a jury trial on September 24, but agreed to the expedited bench trial earlier this week.
The bishop initially was charged with one misdemeanor count, but a second was added to acknowledge two separate time periods in which he failed to report suspected abuse.
On Thursday, he was acquitted of a charge spanning December 17, 2010, to February 10, 2011, because the judge said there was no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Finn knew about the pornographic photos.
The charge on which Finn was convicted involved a period from February 11, to May 11, 2011. Finn sent Ratigan to stay at a convent in Independence, Missouri, during that time, which prosecutors said showed Finn knew about accusations against the priest and the judge agreed.
Finn argued he should not face charges because he was not the diocese’s mandated reporter under the law. At the time, the responsibility rested mainly with Murphy.
Before his sentencing, Finn issued an apology.
‘The protection of children is paramount. Sexual abuse of any kind will not be tolerated,’ he said. ‘I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt that these events have caused.’
The Kansas City case is among a series of prosecutions and investigations of Catholic leaders around the country in the wake of the child sexual abuse scandal that has roiled the church. In July, Monsignor William Lynn was sentenced to up to six years in prison for covering up child sex abuse by priests in Philadelphia.