The Catholic community in Northwest Missouri was rocked this year when a local priest was charged with possession of child pornography, and again when his bishop became the highest-ranking Catholic official ever to face charges for failing to report the alleged abuse.
State and federal prosecutors allege the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan possessed and produced child pornography during a six-year span while he served various parishes in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
He was the parochial administrator for St. Mary Church in St. Joseph and St. Joseph Mission in Easton, Mo., from July 2005 to June 2009 and was the chaplain for Bishop LeBlond.
On May 18, charges were filed against Rev. Ratigan in Clay County for three counts of possession of child pornography. Those charges were superseded by a grand jury, who also indicted him on three counts for possessing child pornography.
On Aug. 9, he was charged in federal court on 13 counts of possessing, producing and distributing child pornography.
In each case, prosecutors allege Rev. Ratigan took covert pictures of young girls’ private parts, and in some instances of young girls in “sexually suggestive manners.” Federal authorities allege at least one of the victims was a 2-year-old girl who attended St. Joseph Mission, and was photographed in the church’s choir loft. They also allege those photos were distributed over the Internet.
In October, the highest member of the diocese, Bishop Robert Finn, was charged in Jackson County, with a Class A misdemeanor for failing to report child abuse.
When Rev. Ratigan was first arrested, it was revealed at least one official in the diocese knew of the photos on his computer as early as December. Also revealed was a memo from a Kansas City principal in May 2010 that outlined her concerns regarding the priest’s suspicious behavior toward children.
In addition to state and federal charges, two civil suits were filed against Rev. Ratigan, the diocese and Bishop Finn in federal court. One case alleges Rev. Ratigan took photos of a student from Cathedral School of St. Joseph over a two-year span.
Rev. Ratigan pleaded not guilty in both state and federal courts. He is being held in federal jail and is scheduled to appear for a trial on June 4.
Bishop Finn also pleaded not guilty to his charge in Jackson County. In November, he entered into a five-year agreement with the Clay County prosecutor in which charges will not be filed if he reports all child sexual abuse within the county.
The diocese has denied all allegations against the organization and its members, but began a five-point plan to review how the case against Rev. Ratigan was handled. The diocese also implemented an ombudsman, who hears and investigates all allegations of current or past sexual abuse of minors.
Kim Norvell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @KimNorvell.