Posts Tagged ‘Shawn Ratigan’

Today’s blog entry starts with a joke:

This guy dies and finds himself outside the Pearly Gates, at the end of a snaking, miles-long line of people who are awaiting their final accounting with St. Peter.

The people in line are understandably nervous, wringing their hands, wiping their brows, standing on tiptoes and craning their necks to see what’s going on up front.

St. Peter

All of a sudden, like an earthquake starting deep in the earth, the sound of thunderous cheers and jubilation begins rolling through the line. The joy is so overwhelming that people in line are getting knocked off their feet as the celebration ripples backward.

Our guy is one of those knocked down…He jumps up and screams hysterically, “What is it? What is it?”

A jubilant voice can be heard over the cacophony: “They’re not countin’ fuckin! They’re not countin’ fuckin!”


I’m sorry if that offended any of you, but there’s a point to it:

The Catholic Church has been so myopic over the years about issues like pre-marital sex and abortion that it lost sight of the importance of protecting children and the need to identify and cull out bad-apple priests.

In a way, I hate to keep harping on the latest priest-impropriety scandal in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, but Bishop Robert Finn’s parrying and counter punching cry out for comment. (Also, it sells…I mean, it gets a lot of views.)

First, the bishop appointed former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate the botched handling (by Finn) of the Father Shawn Ratigan child-porn case. Then, he appointed a vicar for clergy, a new position. Last week, he created another new position — ombudsman and public liaison officer — and appointed a former assistant Jackson County prosecutor.

My first reaction to this flurry of activity at 20 W. Ninth is that those of you who are looking for work might want to consider applying at the diocese. Looks like jobs aplenty down there.

I have also learned that the bishop has ordered that all diocesan employees get refresher training in a program called Protecting God’s Children, which many dioceses adopted several years ago to ensure safe environments in all parishes, schools, and diocesan programs.

The diocese website says of the program, “The focus of the FREE training is to increase awareness about the nature of child sexual abuse.”

Now, all I can figure on this retraining mandate is that it’s the old trickle-up theory: Finn must be hoping that by putting the employees through more rigorous training, the environment will become so sensitized that even he will be moved to protect God’s children.

Here’s the main reason all this foment out of diocesan headquarters is so laughable: It’s completely redundant.

As letter writer Jennifer Randle of Overland Park eloquently put it in today’s Kansas City Star:

“Why would anyone believe new procedures would help this diocese when the current ones, had they been followed, would have resulted in Father Shawn Ratigan’s activities being reported to the police when the leaders of the diocese first became aware there was a problem a year ago?”

She went on to say, “My thanks goes to The Star for giving this topic as much press as it has to point out that nothing has changed regarding the protection of priests who abuse children.”

Here’s Phase II of the story.

As I have said all along, I think nothing will really change with the church unless people vote with their feet and their wallets. When the money stops flowing, backing the hierarchy into a corner, the church will have to take drastic action.

Fortunately, there are indications that the cash funnel is narrowing. An Associated Press article on Page A12 of The Star today said that contributions to The Vatican fell nearly $15 million, or 18 percent, last year “amid tough economic times and the explosion of the priest sex-abuse scandal.”

Contributions to the Vatican from individual dioceses around the world were down from $31.5 million in 2009 to $27.36 million in 2010.

(On a positive note for the church, the report noted that the Vatican returned to profitability after three years in the red, but that simply indicates, to me, that the Vatican, like many organizations, has had to slash expenses.)

I believe the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese is going to see a sharp decline in contributions this year at the diocesan and parish levels. Many people, I think, will sharply curtail their giving, and, after a while, some of those who cut back their giving will leave the church.

A lot of Catholics, however, will feel compelled to remain true to the church because it’s such an integral part of their lives. And I think that one reason many of those “cultural” Catholics stay put is because, deep in their hearts, they believe the safest and surest path to eternal salvation is through “the one, true Church,” the one that has St. Peter as its foundation.

A lot of Catholics, while they believe that non-Catholics will also go to heaven, have that niggling fear that they shouldn’t leave that big, wide road they’ve been on all their lives; that any other road could lead somewhere scary.

Well now, I’m going to put on my big hat, take up my staff and speak ex cathedra — that is, invoking the doctrine of papal infallibility — and as a Catholic turned Disciple of Christ.

It’s OK to walk. Go in peace. Be not afraid.

There, that’s what JimmyC says on this Fourth of July, 2011, year of Our Lord.

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Three short items today…

The Kansas City Star and writer Judy Thomas, in particular, wrung their hands today about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ failure to significantly change their head-in-sand policies on child sex abuse.

Meeting in Bellevue, Wash., Thursday, the American bishops voted 187-5 to essentially stick with the policy that they adopted in 2002.

“We are dismayed that the new policy is almost identical to the current policy, despite horrifying recent evidence in Kansas City and Philadelphia that the church’s current policies are dangerously lenient and full of loopholes,” Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, was quoted as saying.

It was the lead story in the paper and ran under a one-inch headline that said “Bishops Resist Changes.”

All who are surprised please raise your hands.

Anyone who has any idea of how the Catholic Church operates — and that’s the vast majority of people — knows that the church’s turnaround time on major issues is usually a century or two, not a month or so.

The bishops’ assembly was probably set two years ago, and their position on the sex abuse policy was probably determined months ago.

Rigali -- another pomp and circumstance bishop

The Philadelphia scandal — where Bishop Justin Rigali allowed 37 accused priests to continue working around children in Catholic parishes — took place earlier this year.

I predict it’s going to take decades for the church to come around to the idea that the correct action in priest-accusation cases is to call the police immediately — not mull it over, meet with and warn the priests and try to persuade them to get on the right path.

The Star’s headline and story smacked of hyperventilation.

Maybe it was just a vehicle to run a big photo of the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan, the local priest who got his kicks by taking “up-skirt” photos of elementary-school girls.

Ratigan, who is in jail, was photographed in Clay County Circuit Court, where he made a brief appearance Thursday. Nothing happened in his case Thursday; the fact that he appeared was, correctly, worth only a paragraph in today’s story.

The story probably deserved front-page play, but certainly not top of the page with a four-column photo.


Here’s a funny correction from Wednesday’s New York Times…

Leona and Trouble

“An article on Friday about the death of Leona Helmsley’s dog, Trouble, misstated the reason that Trouble’s inheritance from Ms. Helmsley’s estate was reduced to $2 million from $12 million, the amount specified in the will. A judge determined that the greater amount exceeded that necessary to care for the dog, not that Ms. Helmsley was of unsound mind when she made the will.”

I guess the issue of the late Ms. Helmsley’s state of mind is still up in the air, eh?


Then, the Thursday Times carried an item that is one of the most dreaded events in newsrooms: the correction to a correction.

“A correction in this space on Tuesday misstated the size of the (Irish Fianna Fail) party’s Dublin delegation…there were 18 members, not 47.”


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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.”


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.


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