Bishop Finn in his work clothes
On the surface, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan was just the kind of dynamic new priest that any Roman Catholic bishop would have been happy to put in a parish. He rode a motorcycle, organized summer mission trips to Guatemala and joined Bishop Robert W. Finn and dozens of students on a bus trek to Washington for the “March for Life,” a big annual anti-abortion rally.
But in December 2010, Bishop Finn got some disturbing news: Father Ratigan had just tried to commit suicide by running his motorcycle in a closed garage. The day before, a computer technician had discovered sexually explicit photographs of young girls on Father Ratigan’s laptop, including one of a toddler with her diaper pulled away to expose her genitals.
The decisions that Bishop Finn and his second-in-command in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Msgr. Robert Murphy, made about Father Ratigan over the next five months ultimately led to the conviction of the bishop in circuit court on Thursday on one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse. It was the first time a Catholic bishop in the United States had been held accountable in criminal court in the nearly three decades since the priest sexual abuse scandals first came to light.
Both Bishop Finn and Monsignor Murphy, as ministers, were required by law to report suspected child abuse to the civil authorities. But they were also required to report under policies that the American bishops put in place 10 years ago at the height of the scandal — policies that now hold the force of canon law…
Finn did neither.
This is an account of how, as recently as 2011, in violation of both church and civil laws, a bishop and church officials failed to stop a priest from pursuing his obsession with taking pornographic photographs of young girls. Eventually it was Monsignor Murphy, not Bishop Finn, who turned in Father Ratigan.
The witnesses never told their stories in court. The verdict was decided by a judge in a bench trial that lasted less than an hour and a half. But the facts of the case are known and even agreed upon by both the prosecution and the defense — summed up in a nine-page stipulation of testimony that contained details about the case that were not public until they were submitted to the judge on Thursday. Many details were also revealed in what is known as the Graves report, an independent investigation commissioned by the diocese last year and conducted by a former United States attorney, Todd P. Graves…
RTFA for the details. Some will be surprised the church hasn’t learned from its disreputable history – and consequences. I am not.
Bishop Finn and the diocese were indicted by a grand jury in October 2011. Monsignor Murphy was given immunity for cooperating with the prosecution. He testified that he turned Father Ratigan in because he had grown concerned that he was truly a pedophile. The monsignor said that when the bishop learned he had turned in Father Ratigan, “It seemed he was angry.”
After Father Ratigan was arrested, Bishop Finn met with his priests. Asked why Father Ratigan was not removed earlier, the bishop replied, according to the testimony, that he had wanted “to save Father Ratigan’s priesthood” and that he had understood that Father Ratigan’s problem was “only pornography.”
“Only pornography” does not separate child pornography. No need to explain the differences in the eyes of the law – or in the understanding of child development, maturity and ability to understand adult situations. Things vary with societies and cultures around the world, some relying more on science, some relying on folk myth and justifying exploitation. A separate discussion.
What is at issue here is church hierarchy treating civil, criminal and canonical law as something to be obeyed only as whim. A view that is centuries out of date.