Reluctant Accountability in Kansas City

Amidst an increased nationwide focus on accountability for child sexual abuse, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph stands as a prime example of an institution’s failure to put its house in order.   Today, in lieu of another indictment on misdemeanor charges for the willful disregard of Father Shawn Ratigan’s production of child pornography and exploitation of children, Bishop Robert Finn entered into a compliance agreement with the Clay County Prosecutor.  This agreement provides the Clay County prosecutor unique oversight of the Diocese and its handling of child abuse complaints for the next five years.  Unfortunately, this agreement was forced only after the devastating impact of broken promises and historic inaction from the Diocese revealed by Father Ratigan’s crimes.   

In December 2010, Diocesan officials discovered child pornography on Father Ratigan’s computer.  While the Diocese relieved Ratigan of his duties as a pastor of St. Patrick Church, the Diocese did not monitor his behavior and the Diocese did not turn over the computer and images to law enforcement. Instead, the Diocese consulted with their attorneys, made copies of the pornographic images and retained the images for approximately six months, until the intervention of law enforcement in May 2011.  Jeff Anderson & Associates filed two separate lawsuits on behalf of Ratigan’s victims, Jane Doe 174 and Jane Doe 186, against Father Ratigan, Bishop Finn, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. 

The Diocese’s cover-up of the Ratigan scandal follows their 2008 agreement with 47 sexual abuse survivors to report any suspicion of sexual abuse or misconduct by its clergy to law enforcement.  It also follows a pledge made by American Bishops over a decade ago to report suspected child abusers to the appropriate law enforcement officials.  For years, the Diocese has put public relations before child protection. 

It is a sad situation that institutions such as the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph must be caught in inevitable public scandals before top officials will even contemplate behavioral changes.  Moreover, in the aftermath of such scandals, it is hard to believe that these entities must then be forced by law enforcement to live up to their responsibility to protect children.