.- The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph voiced deep sympathy for victims harmed by a diocesan priest who plead guilty in federal court Aug. 2 to child pornography charges.
“The diocese expresses its profound concern for anyone who may have been harmed by Shawn Ratigan and urges prayer for all affected by his actions,” the diocese said in a statement Monday.
Fr. Ratigan, who served as pastor of parishes throughout the diocese, plead guilty to the charge of producing or attempting to produce child pornography in federal court, over a year after his initial arrest.
“The diocese is fundamentally committed to ensure that every report of sexual abuse, boundary violation or misconduct is addressed thoroughly and immediately,” the statement said.
In wake of Ratigan's May 2011 arrest, the diocese brought on former assistant prosecuting attorney, Jenifer Valenti, as liaison to investigate “all reports of sexual misconduct or suspicious behavior” throughout the diocese and contact the police if they have not already been notified.
However, the diocese has continued to emphasize that Valenti and the Department of Child and Youth Protection are not substitutes for the police or other law enforcement authorities.
“If you have been the victim of abuse or know a victim, you should call the police, you should call (Missouri Division of Family Services), and then you should call me,” Valenti said at a Jan. 7 informational meeting, The Catholic Key reported.
In June 2011, Bishop Robert W. Finn enacted changes streamlining the way the diocese handled sexual abuse allegations and requested an independent report to investigate diocesan policies and procedures.
The investigation, which was conducted by Missouri-based law firm of Graves Bartle Marcus and Garrett found that leaders in the diocese “failed to follow their own policies and procedures for responding to reports,” specifically in the incident surrounding Fr. Ratigan.
Despite having identified “shortcomings, inaction and confusing procedures,” Attorney Todd Graves concluded in his Sept. 1, 2011 report that Bishop Finn and the leadership of the diocese “understand the gravity of the issues and take these recommendations seriously.”
The recommendations from the Graves report, which closely match the five reforms the diocese enacted immediately following Fr. Ratigan's arrest, include the immediate notification of proper authorities, better support for the victims and notification of the public.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, along with Bishop Finn, has been charged in the Jackson County Court on misdemeanor counts for failure to report suspected child abuse, but attorneys for both have entered pleas of not guilty. The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 24.
According to a May 2011 statement, when Bishop Finn was notified of questionable images of children found on Fr. Ratigan's personal computer in Dec. 2010, he contacted a a Kansas City police officer and a diocesan legal counsel who informed him that the images, though disturbing, did not contain sexual contact or conduct according to Missouri sate law.
Fr. Ratigan was immediately summoned to the chancery, but failed to appear when he attempted to commit suicide.
After Fr. Ratigan was received medial and psychiatric attention, he was sent to live at the Vincentian Mission House in Independence, Mo. where he paid rent and assisted with Mass for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist. During this time he was forbidden any contact with minors and was not allowed access to his computer or camera.
Bishop Finn said that after he received reports that Fr. Ratigan had violated the conditions, having attended a child's birthday party at the invitation of the parents, the diocese again contacted the police officer to discuss their concern with his behavior.
This time, the police officer who was previously consulted facilitated a report to the Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit and a full investigation of the priest began. Shortly after, he was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography.
“I deeply regret that we didn’t ask the police earlier to conduct a full investigation,” Bishop Finn said in a May 2011 statement to the diocese.
The diocese has since expanded the role of the Independent Review Board, a committee which assists in receiving and evaluating reports of misconduct.
“The changes could be unsettling but, more than ever, I realize that they are necessary,” Bishop Finn said.