On Sept. 6, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph released the names of 24 clergy members that the organization believes to have substantiated allegations of abuse against children, including a former St. Joseph priest now serving 50 years in prison.
The release of these names follows the example of many dioceses in the United States, as the Catholic Church works to address what has been a decades-old issue in parishes across the country.
According to Carrie Cooper, director of the Office of Children and Youth Protection at the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, the list was compiled with the hopes that healing would occur for those who suffered the abuse and those whose faith was shaken because of the previous lack of transparency.
“The goal really is healing,” Cooper said. “There have been so many families affected by the harm that was done by the church, by church leaders who look the other way in the past, by people that look the other way, when maybe they had a suspicion. And if we can bring some healing, and bring some light to and some normalcy to the conversation, that’s the goal of putting the list out.”
The list includes the names of men who either were ordained by the diocese (19) or worked in the area of the diocese when the alleged abuse occurred (five). Only 10 of the men are still alive with the majority of the alleged offenses believed to have taken place prior to the 1990s.
Of those who are still living, five have been permanently removed from ministry, four have had their title stripped, one was tried by the Vatican and one is currently serving a 50-year sentence in federal prison.
This man who is serving time for his abuse, Shawn Ratigan, was a priest who served in several parishes and schools throughout the Diocese Kansas City-St. Joseph, including St. Joseph Mission in Easton, St. Mary’s in St. Joseph, Bishop LeBlond High School and St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kansas City. The revelation that Ratigan was taking sexual photos of children at his parish that were as young as 2 years old had an effect on both the leaders and followers of the local diocese.
“About the time that Ratigan came out, I had just started my kids on that — made the commitment and the sacrifice to send them to Catholic school,” Cooper said. “So as a parent, and as a parishioner, it was so shocking to me, just reading the newspaper. That’s all I knew, which is what most parishioners knew. It was just so shocking to me how this could continue to happen in our church.”
While Ratigan made the list released by the diocese, another clergy member connected to the case did not. Emeritus Bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese Robert Finn, who gave his resignation to Pope Francis in 2015, pleaded guilty to failure to report suspected abuse in the case. Finn was sentenced to seven years probation for this misdemeanor.
“One of the criteria that was met for people to be on the list is if they were charged with sexual abuse of a minor,” Cooper said. “So Bishop Finn was charged with failure to report sexual abuse, but not actually being a perpetrator himself of sexual abuse.”
With the resignation of Finn, a new bishop was assigned to the diocese, James Johnston. During his first year, Johnston worked to create a culture of transparency and healing in the diocese, hosting a service of lament in which sexual assault survivors were able to read about the pain they had suffered at the hand of clergy members as well as a service of healing at St. Mary’s where Ratigan had served.
Along with the release of the names of those with substantiated allegations, the bishop also listed the names of men whom he had found unsuitable for ministry out of concern for youth in the church: Thomas Cronin, Stephen Muth and Michael Rice.
The bishop gave a lengthy statement along with the release of the list in which he encouraged suspected abuse to be reported and parishioners to look to the scriptures during the turbulent time.
“Clergy child sexual abuse has brought a spiritual darkness that has covered not only those personally afflicted, but also all our parishioners and clergy,” Johnston said. “In this darkness, I urge us to look to the Gospel Passion accounts for hope. Christ illuminates all darkness, including the present one which overshadows our Church.”