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Investigation finds diocese failed to follow policies

Kim Norvell, St. Joseph News-Press

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph failed to follow its own procedures and polices when reporting allegations of child sex abuse against the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan, an independent investigation found.

Conducted by former United States Attorney Todd Graves and his team, the 141- page review concluded Msgr. Robert Murphy, vicar general of the diocese, waited too long to advise the Independent Review Board of allegations against Rev. Ratigan, which allowed him to continue to abuse children and defy child protective boundaries set forth by Bishop Robert Finn.

Those allegations included hearing individual confessions of minors, hosting an Easter party where he allegedly took photos aimed up a young girl’s shorts, attending a track meet at Bishop LeBlond High School, and having contact with at least one family from St. Joseph’s Parish in Easton, Mo.

According to the report and a statement released by the diocese, the mishandling of the case was identified under four primary diocesan shortcomings:

“Gatekeeping consolidated into a single administrative office; failure to follow diocesan policy in a timely manner; reliance on limited professional judgments rather than the Independent Review Board; and misplaced trust in Ratigan’s agreement to comply with restrictions.”

In addition to its findings, the review, which was completed over 60 days and included more than 50 witness interviews and the examination of thousands of emails, outlines recommendations for the diocese to strengthen its sexual misconduct policies.

“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,” Mr. Graves said in a statement.

Based on its findings, the recommendations include: -Any diocesan employee or volunteer who receives allegations of minor abuse must report to the police and the Division of Family Services.

-The ombudsman should be notified of all allegations of current or past sexual abuse of minors. In addition, two new reporting categories should be established: Sexual misconduct with minors and boundary violations.

-All reports should be immediately investigated by the ombudsman.

-The Independent Review Board will be notified of all reports so it can make recommendations to Bishop Finn. Certain reports should be expedited while the accused is placed under administrative leave.

-The diocese should be more proactive in offering victim support as well as notifying the public of priests who are removed from ministry due to allegations of child abuse.

The investigation was initiated under Bishop Robert’s Finn five-point plan, which was created after the diocese was accused of covering up abuse allegations against Rev. Ratigan.

Rev. Ratigan was charged in Clay County in May for three counts of possession of child pornography; he also faces 13 federal counts of producing and distributing child pornography.

Bishop Finn’s handling of the case came under fire after a memo by St. Patrick School Principal Julie Hess surfaced, outlining misconduct by Rev. Ratigan around the Kansas City school’s children more than a year before he was arrested.

The report acknowledges that Bishop Finn relied too heavily on his own administrative boundaries that attempted to separate Rev. Ratigan from children, which the bishop put into place after reading the memo. He also relied too heavily on reports given to him by Msgr. Murphy, including the belief that he had turned the pornographic photos over to police.

The review, however, was more critical of Msgr. Murphy’s handling of Rev. Ratigan’s case.

According to the report, Msgr. Murphy verbally described the pictures to a member of the Independent Review Board, but did not turn the case over to the board for review. The report also states Msgr. Murphy failed to immediately turn over pornographic photos found on his computer to police, even though the board member advised him to do so.

Msgr. Murphy was removed from the ministry in June after the diocese said it received credible allegations of abuse against him.

As part of the Bishop’s five-point review plan, an ombudsman, Jennifer Valenti, was appointed to handle such reports.

“Graves’ recommendations are comprehensive, thoughtful and detailed,” Bishop Finnsaid in a statement. “We understand their importance and are focusing on them so we establish clear, strong and unequivocal procedures for all diocesan personnel and volunteers that ensure the safety of our children today and into the future.”

Despite the bishop’s efforts to reach out to parishioners in St. Joseph regarding Rev. Ratigan’s alleged behavior, reactions from Co-Cathedral in St. Joseph that were quoted in Mr. Graves’ review demonstrates the emotional hurt the case has left.

“The images of my daughter’s private areas that the FBI showed me, they are forever burned into my brain. … Shawn Ratigan was in my house, around my children in February, and I though my children were completely SAFE!!,” one reaction reads.

Another parishioner stated: “You let one of your priests hurt my children and you saw the pictures and decided to cover it up. That monster was in my house in February ’11 to prey on my children and I let him in, since you felt.

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