Investigators release report on Kansas City diocese’s response to sexual misconduct

.- An independent investigation has issued its report into how Bishop Robert W. Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph mishandled claims of sexual misconduct and how the diocese may improve its response to such allegations.

“Our investigation identified shortcomings, inaction and confusing procedures, but we believe Bishop Finn and the leadership of the diocese understand the gravity of the issues and take these recommendations seriously,” said Todd P. Graves, the former U.S. Attorney who led the investigation.

The 141-page report, dated Aug. 31, found four shortcomings: the diocese’s gatekeeping function for addressing abuse was consolidated into a single administrative office; there was a failure to follow diocesan policy in a timely manner; officials relied on limited professional judgments rather than the diocese’s Independent Review Board; and the bishop misplaced trust in Fr. Shawn Ratigan’s agreement to comply with restrictions.

Fr. Ratigan, former pastor of St. Patrick Church, was arrested May 19, 2011 and charged with possessing child pornography.

In May 2010 the principal of his parish school raised concerns about his inappropriate behavior with children. In December 2010 he was removed from ministry and placed under restrictions after a technician found hundreds of suspicious photographs of children on his computer. He attempted suicide in December after the images were reported to the Church.

Msgr. Robert Murphy, the diocese’s vicar general, conducted what the report called “a limited and improperly conceived investigation” into whether a single image constituted child pornography.

Without seeing the image, the vicar general solicited an opinion from a review board member. He also shared the images with the diocese’s legal counsel and received an opinion that “a single disturbing image” did not constitute child pornography.

Instead of referring the matter to the review board for a more thorough investigation, Msgr. Murphy allowed these answers to satisfy the diocese’s duty for diligent inquiry.

“Although Bishop Finn was unaware of some important facts learned by Msgr. Murphy or that the police had never actually seen the pictures, the bishop erred in trusting Fr. Ratigan to abide by restrictions the  Bishop had placed on his interaction with children after the discovery of the laptop and Fr. Ratigan’s attempted suicide,” the report stated.

A federal grand jury later charged Fr. Ratigan with 13 counts of production, attempted production and possession of child pornography, the Kansas City Star reports.

On June 2, in an unrelated case, the diocese suspended Fr. Michael Tierney from ministry over abuse allegations dating back three decades.

The report recommended that any diocesan employee or volunteer who receives a report of current abuse involving a minor must report it to the police and to the state Division of Family Services whether or not he or she is a mandated reporter. The  Independent Review Board should be notified of all reports, as should the diocesan ombudsman.

The diocese should take greater steps to offer victim support and to notify the public about priests removed from ministry due to credible allegations of child abuse, the report said.

In a June 3 message to his diocese, Bishop Finn said he took “full responsibility” for the failures in response to the Fr. Ratigan case.

“Clearly, we have to do more. Please know that we have, and will continue to cooperate with all local authorities regarding these matters,” he said in his apology.

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