National Catholic Register


Kansas City Report Released

Bishop Finn Struggles to Regain Credibility

BY Joan Frawley Desmond

Register Senior Editor

September 25-October 8, 2011 Issue | Posted 9/19/11 at 10:33 AM


KANAS CITY, Mo. — Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph released a report that criticized his supervision of a troubled priest and recommended changes in his policies for addressing sexual misconduct.

Released Sept. 1, the report comes in the wake of calls for the bishop’s resignation. The report was commissioned by Bishop Finn, following the arrest of Father Shawn Ratigan, a diocesan priest, for possession of child pornography. The report summarized the findings of an independent investigation directed by the former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Todd Graves, who oversaw a team of attorneys, former prosecutors and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials.

The investigators concluded that the diocese’s response was flawed, in part because those seeking to report suspected sexual misconduct were directed to a single administrative office. Further, the report noted that Church officials failed to adhere to diocesan policy for both responding to allegations in a “timely manner” and consulting with the independent review board. The report singled out Bishop Finn for his “[m]isplaced trust in Ratigan’s agreement to comply with restrictions,” once he was placed on administrative leave and ordered to stay away from children.

The report offered a number of recommendations, including the appointment of an ombudsman, who would be “notified of reports of current or past sexual abuse of minors, and should also receive reports of two new categories of conduct: sexual misconduct with minors and boundary violations ... [and] immediately address all allegations of clergy sexual misconduct.”

However, Graves appeared to signal that he was satisfied with both the bishop’s commitment to open disclosure with the investigators and the diocese’s plans for incorporating the necessary policy and staffing changes.

“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,” stated Graves in prepared remarks.

In the months since Father Ratigan’s arrest on May 18, Bishop Finn has repeatedly apologized for the diocese’s response to concerns raised about the priest’s behavior. Further, he has already hired an ombudsman to handle future allegations.

Principal’s Letter

The series of missteps that ended with Father Ratigan’s arrest began with a 2010 letter from Julie Hess, the principal of St. Patrick’s School, who expressed concern about the priest’s “perceived inappropriate behavior with children” and reported that some in the parish feared he might be a “child molester.”

Her letter included no specific allegation of sexual abuse. Rather, as she noted, the community’s concerns were prompted by the priest’s nonsexual boundary violations in his interactions with children. Safe-environment training typically includes education about sexual predators engaging in the so-called “grooming” of their targets through affectionate physical contact.

Msgr. Robert Murphy, the vicar general of the diocese, did not show Hess’ letter to Bishop Finn, but summarized its contents. Last December, a computer technician found disturbing photographs of young girls on the priest’s computer; the images were described, but not shown, to a policeman, and to the diocesan legal counsel. Ultimately, the diocese did not alert local law enforcement.

In an article in the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Key, editor Jack Smith offered an explanation for Bishop Finn’s decision not to contact law enforcement after the images were found on the priest’s computer. “Both the police officer and legal counsel opined that the photos did not constitute child pornography, as they did not contain sexual conduct or contact as defined by Missouri law,” stated Smith.

That said, Father Ratigan was ordered to meet with diocesan officials the following day. “Father Ratigan did not arrive at the chancery. Instead, the next morning he was found unconscious in his garage with his motorcycle running,” Smith wrote.

The priest was placed on administrative leave and underwent psychiatric evaluation. Afterwards, he was not permitted to return to his parish, have any contact with children, or use a camera and a computer.

“On May 12, after repeated reports that Father Ratigan had violated these restrictions, Msgr. Murphy again contacted the police officer he had originally contacted in December. When Msgr. Murphy relayed ongoing concerns about Father Ratigan’s violation of the restrictions placed upon him, the officer facilitated a report to the Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit,” stated Smith.

The priest was taken into custody on May 18. When detectives searched the priest’s possessions left at his family home, they found computer hardware containing images of child pornography. That same day, Father Ratigan was charged with three counts of possession of child pornography in Clay County, Smith confirmed.

In the wake of Father Ratigan’s arrest, Bishop Finn removed Msgr. Murphy from his position as vicar general.

A longer version of this story appeared at

Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.