Back in the March 2010, in my second-ever post, I called on Pope Benedict XVI to resign in the wake of the reignited priest-sexual-abuse scandal.
I didn’t get much response to the post (although a commenter named Rick said “your lack of respect for the religion is appalling”), and a friend who read the piece said, “You gotta get off that and get on to some local stuff.”
I took his advice but have believed since then that the Catholic hierarchy has gone so far astray that the church is no longer a viable institution in the modern era.
And now, today, here in Kansas City, we see yet another incredible, stupefying example of how the Catholic church has done all it could to shield perverted priests at the expense of the safety and well-being of children.
In case you didn’t catch The Star’s front-page story, a 45-year-old priest named Shawn Francis Ratigan — Father Ratigan, you understand — has been charged with three felony counts of possessing pornographic photos of children. He took pictures of girls as young as 3 or 4, and he took other photos up the skirts of girls under 12, according to documents filed in Clay County Circuit Court.
In his police mug shot, Father Ratigan looks like a creepy guy you’d want to avoid, even at the Quik Trip.
The indefensible action in this case, however, is that officials with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph learned about the photos in December but waited until last week — five months — to report Ratigan to police.
By contrast, the Clay County prosecutor filed charges within three hours of receiving the case file from police on Thursday.
The Star’s story said: “When asked why the diocese didn’t notify authorities until Friday, diocese officials said they consulted with legal counsel and ‘took appropriate steps based on the facts as we knew them.’ ”
On top of the delay, the diocese made a copy of the images found on Ratigan’s laptop and then, instead of turning the computer over to police, gave it to his family, who destroyed it.
The diocese sent out its spokeswoman, Becky Summers, to try to explain the debacle, and Becky, a long-time acquaintance, played a terrible hand as best she could.
But let there be no misunderstanding: Although the story did not once mention his name, the guiltiest party in this fiasco — besides Ratigan — is Bishop Robert Finn, who, during his six-year tenure, has managed to set the diocese back about 50 years. I have no doubt his goal is to take the church back a full century and that he will succeed.
I greatly admired Pope John Paul II’s humility and personal courage, but he stacked the deck with cardinals and bishops who are bent on taking the church back to the pre-Vatican II era, and Pope Benedict and Bishop Finn are straight out of John Paul’s mold.
Finn set the tone here early on, when he put out orders directing, among other things, that lay members should not be near the altar during Mass; that priests should not leave the altar to mingle with the congregation at “the sign of peace” after the Lord’s Prayer; and that only “sacred” metal vessels — not crystal — should be used for the wine that Catholics believe is transformed into the blood of Christ at the consecration.
In addition, every chance he gets, Finn presents himself with staff and mitre. He has his own “altar boy,” a guy in his 40s or 50s, who dresses in the throwback black cassock and white surplice.
In other words, Finn has clearly demonstrated that, to him, it’s all about symbol over substance, clergy over laity. He’s much more consumed with the aura of the clergy and making church services a big production than he is about the church ministering to the people.
It’s no surprise, then — but still shocking — that he would hold damning evidence against a priest for five months, possibly allowing the perp to drift away or the evidence to be misplaced. Fortunately, the case appears to be intact. Police have a disk — provided, kindly, by the diocese — with the pornographic images, and Ratigan was being held on $200,000 bond.
In case you’re wondering, I am a former Catholic. My wife Patty left the church about five years ago, and I left about four years ago, about the time Finn came out with his no-laity-near-the-altar and priests-shouldn’t-leave-the-altar dictums. I’m now a member of the Disciples of Christ, a denomination rooted in egalitarianism and dedicated to serving the needs of its members.
I’ve never looked back, and episodes like the handling of the Ratigan case make me almost fall to my knees in thanks that I’m not associated with an organization that does not seek to have justice served as quickly as possible, especially when the victims are children.
This afternoon, Bishop Finn rose to the surface and issued the following statement:
“In mid December of 2010, I was told that a personal computer belonging to Fr. Shawn Ratigan was found to have many images of female children. Most of these were images of children at public or parish events. I was told that there were also some small number of images that were much more disturbing, images of an unclothed child who was not identifiable because her face was not visible.
“The very next day, we contacted a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer and described one of the more disturbing images. At the same time, the diocese showed the images to legal counsel. In both instances we were told that, while very troubling, the photographs did not constitute child pornography, as they did not depict sexual conduct or contact.
“Immediately after the diocese became aware of these images, Shawn Ratigan attempted suicide. In the week or so after this, Shawn Ratigan survived his suicide attempt and became conscious. He went from the medical center to a psychiatric unit until it seemed that the risk of another suicide attempt was minimized.
“I then sent him for a psychiatric evaluation out of state. The psychiatrist asked for and was provided with the images we had so he could evaluate Shawn’s condition. When he returned, Shawn stayed at his mother’s home for a while until I could determine a place where he could reside, continue counseling and not be around children. The Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist kindly agreed to have him assist them by saying Mass for the sisters. I restricted him from participating in or attending other events if there were children present. He lived at an adjoining property, the Vincentian Mission House, and paid rent. He did not have his computer or his camera in his possession during this period.
“In early March, Shawn’s family asked for Shawn’s computer to be returned. It had been kept at the offices of the diocesan legal counsel, and was given to them.
“In late March, I received some reports that Shawn was violating some of the conditions of his stay. I was told that he attended a St. Patrick Day parade and met with friends and families. He also attended a child’s birthday party at the invitation of the child’s parents. I confronted him about these things and told him again that he was not permitted to have any contact with minors.
“When Shawn continued to disregard these requirements, on May 12 ,Vicar General Monsignor Robert Murphy contacted the same police officer previously consulted to discuss his concerns. That officer facilitated our report to the Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit. Along with our report, we provided the electronic images that we had received in December. Detective Maggie McGuire began an investigation. In the past week she conducted interviews and, pursuant to a search warrant, found additional materials, which had never been in our possession and which we did not know existed, and which are alleged to constitute child pornography. On May 19, Shawn Ratigan was arrested and charged in Clay County with three counts of a C felony possession of child pornography.
“I deeply regret that we didn’t ask the police earlier to conduct a full investigation.
“Shawn Ratigan was a popular priest who had a large network of friends, and was media savvy. Many parents have called with deep concerns about their children who knew and trusted him. To any parents who have any questions or concerns about contact between their children and Shawn Ratigan, I recommend that you contact Detective 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. I pray that the strong anger, shame, disappointment and fear that so many are feeling will be helped by our trust in Him.”