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The Click of the Camera Should Haunt KC Bishop Robert Finn

Bishop Robert Finn

Bishop Robert Finn, head of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri, has not had a good week as two big stories have put him back in the headlines, and not in a good way.

Back in October 2011, Finn was indicted for failing to report suspicions that one of his priests, Shawn Ratigan, possessed and may have created child pornography.  In a very short trial eleven months later, Finn was found guilty of violating Missouri’s “mandated reporter” statutes. (Ratigan, in a separate trial, was found guilty of creating child pornography.) Even so, and despite the very child protection policies he himself signed, he remains the bishop of his diocese.

This week, two civil lawsuits against Finn and the diocese were settled for $1.8 million. That’s bad news in anyone’s book. But the worst part of the settlement is this, as told by the KC Star: “The lawsuit settled Friday . . . said Ratigan engaged a girl — identified as Jane Doe 96 — in sexually explicit conduct from 2009 to 2011”.

Notice that last date? It’s kind of a problem for Finn. Specifically, it’s the really big kind of a problem.

What makes this so awful for Finn is where that date fits in the timeline of this case. As a part of his 2012 trial, Finn and the diocese submitted nine pages of stipulated testimony, to avoid direct examination of various witnesses, including Finn. The blockquotes that follow are direct quotes from that testimony, reformatted here  and very lightly edited (usually in brackets) for readability. . .

May 19, 2010 –  Julie Hess, Principal of St. Patrick’s School, drafted a memo to be presented to [Vicar General Robert] Murphy outlining concerns expressed by parents and staff of St. Patrick’s School regarding “boundary issues” between Ratigan and children. Hess notified Murphy of her concerns because “[p]arents, staff members, and parishioners are discussing his actions and whether or not he may be a child molester.”

May 19, 2010 – Murphy met with Hess, and was made aware of the boundary concerns.

Later in May 2010 – Murphy spoke with [Bishop Finn] about Hess’ concerns.

Meanwhile, as the two lawsuits settled this week demonstrate, Ratigan’s camera kept clicking away.

June 2010 – [Finn] followed up on the issue with Ratigan . . .  During that conversation he told Ratigan “[w]e have to take this seriously.”

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

December 16, 2010 – Ken Kes, a computer technician contracted by St. Patrick’s Parish, examined a laptop owned by Ratigan due to his complaints of sluggish performance. Kes observed alarming pictures of children on this laptop, including a close up photograph of a little girl’s naked vagina. He took the computer back to St. Patrick’s Parish and showed the photograph to the Deacon of St. Patrick’s Parish, Michael Lewis. Lewis described Kes as being so upset that his hands were shaking to the point he couldn’t open the laptop. Lewis called Murphy and then immediately took the laptop to the Chancery in Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri. Upon arrival at the Chancery Lewis turned the laptop over to Murphy and an IT person, later identified as Julie Creech.

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

December 16-17, 2010 – Creech examined the laptop finding hundreds of photographs characterized as up-skirt photographs or photographs focused on little girls’ crotches. Many of the photographs appear to be taken while little girls were crawling on playground equipment, under tables or in one case while a little girl was asleep with her hand and pajama bottoms appearing staged in a sexually suggestive manner. Many of the photographs were close ups of only the child’s crotch/panties, with no visible facial features. [She also] observed eight photographs focusing on a little girl’s vaginal area with the panties being moved further aside in each photograph, with the final photograph depicting a naked vagina. Also discovered in this location was a photograph of a child’s bare bottom and a photograph of a little girl. Creech notified Murphy of what she found, specifically telling him of a photograph of the “clitoral region” of a little girl. Creech advised Murphy to call the police.

December 17, 2010 – At Murphy’s request [Creech] printed off hard copies of the most concerning photographs, as well as a variety of photographs illustrating the type of situations photographed, such as children at play. The hard copies of the photographs, a written report describing the nature of the photographs, and a flash drive containing a copy of what was found were all provided to Murphy.

December 17, 2010 – Ratigan attempted suicide. [On that same day,] Murphy told Finn of the attempted suicide and the photographs found on Ratigan’s computer.

No later than December 20, 2010 –  The laptop, flash drive with the saved images, Creech’s written report and hard copies of the photographs were turned over to Jon Haden, an attorney, who represents the Diocese. Haden indicated he did not view any of the images on the flash drive or the computer, but read the report and viewed hard copies of the photographs. Haden informed the Diocese that it was his legal opinion the images were not child pornography. No further examination of the computer or its contents was conducted by Haden. The laptop, flash drive, report and hard copies of the photographs were then stored at Haden’s law office. No effort was made by any employee or agent of the Diocese to determine the identity of the children depicted in the hundreds of photographs. Rebecca Summers, Director of Communication for the Diocese, spoke with Murphy and Haden. Summers told Murphy to call the police.

Murphy did not.

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

December 29, 2010 – Finn sent an email to Rick Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist in Pennsylvania, to arrange evaluation of Ratigan. Fitzgibbons was specifically chosen by Finn.

January 4, 2011 – Finn received an email from Fitzgibbons indicating he recommended “Fr. R” for an evaluation next Monday or Tuesday. Fitzgibbons is hopeful he can address Ratigan’s “severe loneliness that has caused this problem.”

January 10, 2011 – A copy of the Hess report is faxed to Fitzgibbons. [Later that same day,] Finn receives an email from Fitzgibbons. The email references accusations made by the school principal stating, “[t]hen, in our preliminary opinion, the school principal may have orchestrated false accusations against him.” Fitzgibbons went on to say he has seen a number of other younger priests across the country mistreated in a similar fashion by members of other parishes and schools. Finn testified the report he received from Fitzgibbons said Ratigan was not a risk to children.

Mid-January 2011 – Ratigan thereafter received treatment via phone conferences with Fitzgibbons or his associates. Following his return from Pennsylvania, Ratigan was assigned to live at the Vincentian House in Independence, Missouri and to say daily mass for the Franciscan Sisters. The Sisters also run the Franciscan Prayer Center which is used by many Catholic Schools for retreats. Ratigan was allowed to say mass for the youth or student groups at the Franciscan Prayer Center, though he was not to participate in individual or group sessions.

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

January 18, 2011 – [Communications Director] Summers sent an email to Murphy that Ratigan was communicating with children on his Facebook page. Murphy replied to the email on the same day indicating he had left a message instructing Ratigan to stop his Facebook usage.

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

January 19, 2011 – Finn sent an email to Fitzgibbons. Finn indicates that he has been informed that Ratigan has been using his Facebook page to communicate with young people. Finn also indicates that Murphy attempted to reach Ratigan and ask him to refrain from these social media.

February 7, 2011 – Finn signed and dated as received a letter from Ratigan. The first sentence of the letter is “I am going to give you a brief summary of how I got to where I am with my addiction to pornography and than (sic) go into the restrictions I will have on my ministry.”

February 10, 2011 – Finn placed seven restrictions on Ratigan, including:

5. Fr. Ratigan will avoid all contact with children. On a preliminary “trial” basis, Fr. Ratigan may celebrate Holy Mass for youth or student groups at Franciscan Prayer Center in Independence, if requested, but he will not participate in individual or group sessions with minors.
6. Fr. Ratigan will not use any computer until or unless there is a valid provision for oversight, e.g. Covenant Eyes, etc.
7. Fr. Ratigan will use a camera only in limited circumstances. No photos of children should be taken.

The restrictions placed on Ratigan by Finn were not distributed to the Catholic community at-large. Because Finn trusted Ratigan to comply with the restrictions, no provisions were put in place to monitor compliance with the restrictions.

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

March 28, 2011 – Murphy was informed in an email from Lewis that Ratigan had been in active communication with St. Patrick’s parish families. Specifically, he had attended the Snake Saturday parade, and attended a birthday party for a 6th grade girl. Additionally Murphy was informed that Ratigan was telling parish families that the reason he had to leave St. Patrick’s was because the school principal was “out to get him.”

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

March 31, 2011 – These concerns were forwarded to Finn who forwarded the email to Fitzgibbons with his own comments. In his comments to Fitzgibbons, Finn states “[also I am quite concerned about him attending the six grade girls’ party (see below). I think this is clearly an area of vulnerability for Fr. S. I will have to tell him he must not attend these children’s gatherings, even if there are parents present. I had been very clear about this with him already.”

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

April 8, 2011 – Msgr. Bradley Offutt, the Chancellor of the Diocese, sent an email to Finn regarding Ratigan. Offutt expressed concern that “Father Ratigan’s attendance at a young girl’s party and alleged participation on Facebook sites … is an alarming occurrence.” Offutt suggested “plainly something needs to be done to limit diocesan liability and protect children.” Offutt further stated that “his recent behavior relative to children and on the computer are a flag of the reddest color.”

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

Early May, 2011 – Finn was notified by Murphy that one of the priests living at the Vincentian House was concerned that Ratigan had been using the guest computer at the residence. Finn told Murphy that if the priests were concerned they should have the computer examined.

May 11, 2011 – Murphy reported the existence of the hundreds of photographs on Ratigan’s computer to Smith of the Kansas City Police Department. . . . [Murphy said] the reason he reported this incident to police was, “I was expecting that some of the professionals involved here would give us some direction with regard to Father Ratigan, and it wasn’t happening. I didn’t hear anything from the law firm about going over the computer, which I had asked. The report from the psychiatrist that Bishop Finn sent Father Ratigan to, I had misgivings about this doctor, and I had real misgivings about his diagnosis. And I thought what if Father Ratigan is a pedophile? What if these pictures are more than downloads? …. There was the piece that he was breaking the restrictions that Bishop Finn had put on him when he was living out at the Vincentian House. I began to think what if these are not pictures and these are children that he is preying on, which just horrified me. And the fact that we weren’t getting any action. I thought this is just moving along with no direction, and I thought I have got to do something.”

And Ratigan’s camera kept clicking.

May 12, 2011 – Smith arranged for the evidence to be turned over to the police. The evidence did not include Ratigan’s laptop since the Diocese had returned it to the Ratigan family months earlier. The family subsequently destroyed the laptop due to concerns it contained adult pornographic images.

May 13, 2011 – KCPD received a CD from Jon Haden which contained the images found on Ratigan’s laptop.

May 16, 2011 – Det. McGuire of the Kansas City Police Department was able to identify one of Ratigan’s victims from the CD received from Haden.

May 18, 2011 – Ratigan was arrested for possession of child pornography charges in Clay County, Missouri.

For six months, Finn and the diocese had in their possession evidence that very strongly suggested that Ratigan was engaged in child pornography, and did not call the police to investigate it. And yesterday, in settling those two lawsuits, it was clear that while Finn dithered and stalled and wrote Sternly Worded Letters and wagged his finger at Ratigan, Ratigan’s camera kept on clicking.

Then there was the other big story this week, that makes the settlement of those two lawsuits look even worse. As the National Catholic Reporter lays out, it started unfolding on Monday . . .

KANSAS CITY, MO. – Catholics here formally asking Pope Francis to conduct a canonical review of Bishop Robert Finn say the church’s lack of response to his misdemeanor conviction has caused further spiritual harm to the diocese.

“Civil law has done what civil law can do. The church has done nothing in terms of calling Bishop Finn to accountability. He continues as bishop as if nothing really ever happened,” said Mercy Sr. Jeanne Christensen, a former victims’ advocate for the diocese co-heading the appeal. She spoke at a press conference Monday outside the diocesan offices.

The Kansas City Catholics’ petition, dated Feb. 11, represents a formal request that the Vatican initiate a penal process to determine whether Finn violated church law by failing to report suspected child sexual abuse in connection to Fr. Shawn Ratigan.

In their account of this petition, the New York Times notes that these folks know how to speak Pope Francis’ language:

The parishioners wrote to Francis asking why he suspended a German bishop who spent tens of millions building his opulent quarters, but left in office a bishop who failed to protect children. They argued that Bishop Finn also broke church law and should be subject to a penal proceeding.

“Your holiness, these past two years have been extremely painful for the Catholic community in this diocese,” wrote John Veal, one of the parishioners. “The anger and hurt is palpable among many who still attend Catholic liturgy, including many priests who feel helpless to speak out. Many laity have left the Church.”

Then yesterday (again from NCR), the story picked up steam:

KANSAS CITY, MO. – Waiting may prove the hardest part as a petition seeking a canonical review of Bishop Robert Finn is en route to Rome.

Catholics here received notification Friday from the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. that he had received and forwarded to the Vatican their formal request for a canonical penal process investigating Finn, bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese.

In his brief, two-sentence letter, dated Feb. 15, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano stated, “I acknowledge receipt of your letter of February 11, 2014 addressed to me. The correspondence which you sent has been forwarded to the Holy See.”

In mid-February, the group, in tandem with Fr. Jim Connell, a retired Milwaukee priest and canon lawyer, made the appeal outlining their case that Finn violated church law by not promptly reporting suspicions of child sexual abuse by Fr. Shawn Ratigan. In such a scenario, it states, canon law gives the pope authority to investigate a prelate and, when necessary, enact a “just penalty.”

Connell, a member of the victims’ advocacy group Catholic Whistleblowers, told NCR Friday he was “delighted” when he found the letter in his mail.

Not everything people send to the Papal Nuncio gets forwarded on to Rome. Some gets sent back to local bishops and parishes, and much no doubt gets tossed in the trash (and deservedly so, as trolls of all stripes love writing to nuncios). But the big stuff, the formal stuff, the stuff that is really important both for the individuals involved and for the church as a whole, that gets forwarded on to Rome.

This petition got forwarded on to Rome.

That’s the really really bad news for Finn, as he waits in Kansas City.

And meanwhile, the cameras are clicking.

Not Ratigan’s — the state of Missouri dealt with that rather firmly for the next 49 years — but the cameras of KSHB, KMBC, KCTV, WDAF, the Kansas City Star, the National Catholic Reporter, and all kinds of other media outlets. And they are pointed right at Bishop Robert Finn.




That sound is going to haunt Bishop Finn for a long, long time.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

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