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Diocese announces plan to deal with sexual misconduct

By Glen E. Rice
The Kansas City Star

The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese today announced changes that include the appointment of former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to deal with recent alleged sex misconduct in the diocese.

Bishop Robert W. Finn said the first five points of a sweeping plan include the appointment of Graves to conduct an independent investigation regarding the allegations of a priest charged with possessing child pornography.

In addition, Graves will lead a review of the diocesan ethical code of conduct and sexual misconduct policies.
Finn also said an independent public liaison and ombudsman would be appointed to field and investigate any reports of suspicious or inappropriate behavior.

The diocese said it would continue to cooperate with local law enforcement.

“These are initial steps,” Finn said in a statement. “Other actions are forthcoming.”

Graves, who is not Catholic, said he was approached by the diocesan officials earlier this week to head the independent review.

“I am eager to do it,” he said. “They want to make this a model diocese for the rest of the country.”

After becoming U.S. attorney in September 2001, Graves announced that child pornography and exploitation cases were his top local prosecution priorities. Within a year he had established the Computer Crimes and Child Exploitation Unit to manage the surge in prosecutions.

By 2005, federal prosecutors in western Missouri filed more criminal child exploitation cases than all but five of the 93 federal districts, and the most of any district east of the Rocky Mountains.

Graves also played a key role in having a regional computer forensics laboratory located in Kansas City.
The diocese has come under sharp criticism after the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan was charged last month with possessing child pornography.

Ratigan, 45, of Kansas City, North, is charged in Clay County with three counts of possessing child pornography — photos taken while working for churches and schools in the area. Ratigan has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody, with bond set at $200,000.

A week ago, the diocese announced that Finn has removed another priest from his duties because of “credible reports” of sexual misconduct with minors.

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he doubts the five-point plan would bring about change.

“It is like giving cold medication to a cancer patient,” Clohessy said. “Policies and procedures don’t protect kids. Decisive action protects kids and that is still lacking.”

But Finn said the review would bring clarity out of the “shame, anger, and confusion.”

“In addition to our ongoing and full cooperation with law enforcement, this review will help us to determine the effectiveness of diocesan policies and procedures in a very troubling situation,” Finn said in the statement.

At the conclusion of the review, Graves would issue a report that will be released to the public.

Diocesan officials said the review is expected to take between 30 to 45 days.

Once done, Finn said he pledged the complete cooperation of all diocesan personnel.

Diocesan spokeswoman Rebecca Summers said the diocese participates in annual audits conducted by the USCCB Office of Child and Youth Protection. Those audits, Summers said, are done by an outside firm.

“We think this might be the first independent investigation done by an outside counsel,” Summers said.
Graves was told to “leave no stone unturned,” which meant he would examine how diocesan officials handled the Ratigan matter and other child abuse allegations.

“We want to know what happened, we also want to know why and how it happened,” Summers said. “Should there be any recommendation arise from this independent investigation, we want to implement those so that it does not happen again.”

Jim Caccamo, chairman of the diocese independent review board, said the appointment of an outside investigator is a great effort to get all unanswered questions answered.

“It is going to go a long way at getting at these issues and to make sure everything appropriate is done to protect children,” Caccamo said. “We don’t want any reports out there that we don’t know about.

“I think the bishop has done a good job.”

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