The parents of a minor girl filed a lawsuit today alleging that a priest in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese accused of possessing child pornography took nude photographs of their daughter.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City, claims that the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan took photographs and visual images of a child under her clothing, revealing her underwear, and while the child was nude.
The suit — which also names Bishop Robert Finn and the diocese as defendants — alleges that beginning in about 2006 and continuing through 2010, Ratigan engaged in sexually explicit conduct with the girl, although the lawsuit did not describe the conduct.
During that time, the lawsuit alleges, Ratigan uploaded sexually explicit images to his computer and distributed them over the Internet.
The lawsuit also alleges that in 2006, an employee of the diocese reported to officials that she observed suspicious behavior involving Ratigan and a 4-year-old girl. In response, the lawsuit alleges, the diocese and Finn concealed the report in order to protect himself, Ratigan and diocese from scandal. The lawsuit also alleges that Finn and the diocese possessed and distributed child pornography, which is a violation of federal law.
The suit seeks damages including medical expenses incurred for medical treatment of the girl, who lawyers said is now 7.
“We’re here today because another child has been harmed and more children have been harmed and this diocese has failed to protect the children,” said Jeff Anderson of Anderson & Associates, a Minnesota firm that has filed about 2,000 priest sex abuse cases across the country.
“They allowed this predator, Father Shawn Ratigan, to access children with what we believe is sufficient knowledge to not only have removed him but to have reported him.”
The diocese issued a brief statement in response to the lawsuit: “First and foremost, the diocese is deeply concerned for the well-being of this child and her family. We urge anyone within the community who has information about the actions of Shawn Ratigan to make a confidential report to Detective Maggie McGuire, at (816) 584-6633.”
Ratigan’s attorney, John P. O’Connor, declined comment.
The lawsuit was discussed at a news conference Thursday by Anderson’s firm and the firm of Randles, Mata & Brown of Kansas City, which has filed dozens of priest sex abuse cases, including one filed by 47 plaintiffs that resulted in a $10 million settlement against the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese in 2008.
Rebecca Randles said the diocese entered an agreement with the plaintiffs when it settled the $10 million suit.
“As part of the agreement the diocese agreed that they would take certain steps to ensure that children were safe from now on,” Randles said.
Those steps, she said, included setting up victim’s advocacy programs and immediately reporting any abuse or suspicion of abuse according to Missouri statutes.
“Our clients are incredibly upset, they’re angry and they’re very sad that the steps they took to try to protect children for the future simply seemed to fall on deaf ears,” Randles said. “At the time we negotiated those settlements, the bishop and the monsignor were in the mediations listening to those stories of abuse, listening to the lives that were shattered.” Pat Noaker, of Anderson and Associates, said the girl in the lawsuit was about 3 years old when the abuse began.
Noaker told The Star that the FBI is investigating the case and that the girl’s family has been cooperating with the agency.
FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said she could neither confirm nor deny whether the agency was investigating Ratigan.
Noaker said the lawsuit is alleging that the diocese possessed and distributed child pornography because “they had access and they in fact made copies of the pornography that they pulled off Father Ratigan’s computer in December 2010 and they possessed that for six months before turning it over to law enforcement authorities.
“They also distributed it to different people along the way.”
Randles told The Star that she also has been contacted by six parishioners of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, North, who allege that their children also are victims of Ratigan. Ratigan was at St. Patrick’s from July 2009 to December 2010.
Ratigan, 45, of Kansas City, North, was charged last month by Clay County authorities with three counts of possessing child pornography taken around churches and schools where he had worked. Some of the photos were “up-skirt” images of clothed girls ages 12 and younger, according to court documents, and at least one nude photo focused on a girl’s genitals.
Ratigan has pleaded not guilty to those charges and remains in custody on $200,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court on June 16.
Last week, Finn acknowledged that he did not heed several warnings about Ratigan’s past behavior, including hundreds of pictures that the priest took.
His statement came after it was revealed that the principal of St. Patrick School in Kansas City, North, had given diocesan officials a memo more than a year ago detailing concerns teachers and parents had about Ratigan’s behavior and interactions with children, including hugging and touching that they considered inappropriate.
Finn said that Monsignor Robert Murphy, the vicar general, briefed him about the memo last year, but that he did not ask to read it. Finn said that when he finally read it last Thursday, “I was ashamed at the fact we had not done enough to respond to that.”
On Wednesday, a review board established years ago by the diocese to assess sexual abuse allegations met privately for two hours and came up with a recommendation to deal with cases such as Ratigan’s.
Review board chairman Jim Caccamo and a diocesan spokeswoman said it would be up to the bishop whether to discuss the content of the proposal. Caccamo also confirmed that the police captain whose opinion diocesan officials sought on a photo taken by Ratigan is a member of the review board.
Capt. Richard Smith of the Kansas City Police Department was contacted in December by the diocese after photos were discovered on Ratigan’s laptop computer. But Smith was only told about one photo and was not made aware that there were other more graphic images on the computer.