.- Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn is implementing a plan to improve his diocese's response to cases of suspected abuse, following the recent arrest of a priest on child pornography charges.
“These are initial steps,” Bishop Finn explained, announcing the diocese's initial five-point plan on June 9. “Other actions are forthcoming.”
The plan involves the appointment of Todd Graves, a former co-chair of the U.S. Department of Justice Child Exploitation Working Group, to conduct an independent investigation of recent events and diocesan procedures.
Graves will issue a public report on his investigation, scheduled to conclude within 30 to 45 days. Bishop Finn said the review would “help us to determine the effectiveness of diocesan policies and procedures in a very troubling situation.”
An independent public liaison and ombudsman will begin fielding and investigating reports of suspicious or inappropriate behavior. Bishop Finn said this step would “ensure all concerns are addressed confidentially, respectfully, promptly and appropriately.”
The diocese will also undergo an independent review of its current code of ethics and sexual misconduct policy, while reviewing its staff's familiarity with those policies.
Bishop Finn reaffirmed his commitment to the safe environment training programs that have been in place since 2006.
“The best way to deal with a problem is to prevent wrongdoing,” he said. “We believe that, when adults who interact with children increase their awareness of child sexual abuse, they form a shield that protects children.”
Finally, the diocese has pledged to continue cooperating with local law enforcement.
Diocesan policies already require removing clergy and laypersons from service, pending a full investigation, when there is a credible accusation of abuse.
Fr. Shawn Ratigan, former pastor of St. Patrick Church, was arrested May 19 and charged with possessing child pornography. Five months before, he had been removed from ministry and placed under restrictions after a technician found suspicious, but not illegal, photographs on his computer.
Since then, it has emerged that Msgr. Robert Murphy, Bishop Finn's vicar general, received a report on Fr. Ratigan's “inappropriate behavior with children” in May of 2010, a year before his eventual arrest. The priest reportedly assured the vicar general that he would stop the behaviors in question.
Bishop Finn says he did not read the letter recounting the concerns about the pastor of St. Patrick's. Instead, he relied on Msgr. Murphy's “brief verbal summary” of the report and his subsequent talk with Fr. Ratigan.
The bishop apologized to the faithful of his diocese on June 3, saying he took “full responsibility for these failures.”