The latest news on the Robert Finn-Shawn Ratigan case — the emergence of a warning letter a year ago from the principal of St. Patrick Catholic School in Kansas City, North — has transformed the case into an unmitigated scandal for Bishop Finn.
From the diocese response to the letter, it is also clear that Finn and diocesan officials are trying to cover up what Finn knew and when he knew it.
What we do know is that Finn failed to report the evidence to authorities for five months and that he tried, unsuccessfully, to deal with the wayward priest “in house.”
The four and a half page letter, written by school principal Julie Hess, details troubling and perverted behavior by Father Ratigan around children at the school.
It is clear from the letter that Ratigan, who now stands charged with three counts of possessing child pornography (computer images downloaded from his camera), was obsessed with children and spent most of his workdays at the school, instead of on church business.
(I don’t have the letter, but here’s a link to it, as first published yesterday on tonyskc.com.)
Hess and other staff members, including many teachers at St. Patrick School, were obviously very concerned about Ratigan’s preoccupation with the children and his “hands-on” approach to them. It’s apparent that Hess took notes for a long time and left nothing to chance or speculation.
She simply recounted facts — very troubling facts, including an instance when a parishioner who was helping out at the church one day couldn’t find her young son, whom she had brought with her. When she called out for him, he came around and said, “I was in Father Shawn’s office. He wanted to show me something.”
Hess went on to say, “The mother was very uncomfortable with this since Father has a back room off his office that no one can access and her son was alone with the priest.”
Hess sent the letter, dated May 19, 2010, to the Rev. Robert Murphy, diocesan vicar general, who is Finn’s principal deputy.
Just as troubling as the letter itself is the diocese’s “explanation” of how it was handled. Yesterday, once again, the diocese trotted out out its spokeswoman, Becky Summers, to answer questions.
Listen to what Summers told a Kansas City Star reporter:
1) “Monsignor Murphy went through each point (in the letter) with Ratigan and set clear boundaries for him.”
I’d like to know if Murphy met with him in person. Or did he talk to him on the phone, or did he even handle it by e-mail? Who knows? If it was anything but a face-to-face meeting, it was a sham.
2) The Star’s story says, “Summers said she didn’t know whether Murphy gave the memo to Bishop Robert Finn.”
WHAT? SAY THAT AGAIN — SHE DIDN’T KNOW IF FINN GOT THE MEMO?
Summers, you know, works in the same building with the bishop at 20 W. Ninth Street, Kansas City, Mo.
What’s to stop her from ambling over to Finn’s office and asking him, “Did you get the memo?” And why wouldn’t she have done just that? Is she too busy? Is he too busy?
I have no intention of trying to pin her down on this because it’s clear that giving the press the runaround and trying to keep the bishop under cover have become the top priorities. Finn and the diocese are now in full circle-the-wagons mode, and I think we’re going to see a lot of stone-walling from here on out.
It’s going to be a long summer for Becky Summers.
In my opinion, the stone-walling and obfuscation are only going to hurt the diocese, however. This case has now reached the point where it is obvious that Finn put his desire to see Ratigan — reportedly a fellow conservative — continue functioning as a priest far ahead of the safety and well-being of the children.
Finn has been bishop six years. When he arrived from St. Louis, lugging his conservative track record, I think a lot of liberal and moderate Catholics were circumspect. They have been waiting to see how he might handle an ethical dilemma, along the lines of alleged priestly impropriety.
Now it has happened. And Finn has completely blown it. He has shown his colors: It’s clergy and conservative ideology above all. The laity, especially the children, are secondary.
I think what we’ll see now is many Kansas City area Catholics leaving the church. For many who were teetering, this will be the last straw.
Also, this is going to cost the diocese hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions, in future contributions. Many people are going to ask themselves, “Why would I contribute to a corrupt organization?”
And they’re either going to keep their money in their pockets or give to other, more credible, organizations.
Footnote: At 4:40 p.m., The Star posted a story saying that Finn had held an afternoon news conference at which he said, “I must also acknowledge my own failings. As bishop, I owe it to people to say things must change.”
The Star paraphrased Finn as saying that Murphy, the vicar general, briefed him on Hess’s letter at the time but that he (Finn) did not ask to see it first hand. “Hindsight makes it clear that I should have requested from Monsignor Murphy an actual copy of the report,” Finn said.
Finn said that Murphy met with Ratigan in person after Murphy got Hess’s letter.
Finn said he would be holding meetings to determine how best to change the diocese’s internal structure, reporting and procedures, presumably regarding cases of alleged priestly misconduct.