Family: Bishop, Diocese pretended to be ‘sophisticated incompetents’

KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV)Another lawsuit has been filed alleging that Bishop Robert Finn and other Catholic Church leaders strove to cover-up Father Shawn Ratigan taking sexually explicit pictures of young girls.

An unidentified girl and her parents are suing The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Bishop Robert Finn, and Ratigan. Some of the allegations are similar to a previous lawsuit by another girl’s family but also includes explosive new allegations about the lengths that Diocese leaders and Finn went to keep the issue from going public.

These allegations include claiming that Finn, the diocese’s attorney and others purposely turned over the laptop to Ratigan’s family rather than the authorities counting on the fact that the family would destroy the laptop and eliminate crucial evidence.

This is at least the second such lawsuit. The parents of a 9-year-old girl claimed last month that a cover up by the Diocese and its bishop led to a priest taking sexual advantage of their daughter.

A Jackson County grand jury is exploring issues related to Ratigan and the Diocese’s handling of the allegations against him.

In a statement, the Diocese said Thursday that the diocese would vigorously challenge the allegations in court.

“While the diocese has noted many inaccurate statements in the civil complaint, it intends to place those false statements into the hands of the court,” according to the statement.”The fundamental concern of the Diocese is for the child and her family. The actions attributed to Shawn Ratigan betrayed their trust and violated the dignity of their daughter.”

The girl met Ratigan in 2006 when Ratigan presided over the funeral mass for the girl’s great-grandfather. The girl attended Cathedral School of St. Joseph and Ratigan would stop by and visit with the girl, according to the lawsuit.

Visits with the girl and her family occurred from 2006 through 2011, according to the lawsuit. Ratigan began taking sexually explicit pictures of the girl in 2008.

This included Ratigan posing the girl “in a sexually-explicit manner” as she was sleeping, the lawsuit claims. The pictures were uploaded to Ratigan’s computer and uploaded to the Internet.

On Dec. 16, 2010, a computer technician contracted by the Diocese was asked to perform maintenance on Ratigan’s laptop computer.

“While serving the computer, (the technician) discovered files containing pictures of young girls, which focused on the torso and crotch areas of the children,” according to the lawsuit. “(The technician) did not turn the computer over to the police, but because of his contract with the Diocese, returned the computer to (a deacon) at St. Patrick’s Parish.”

The lawsuit alleges that the deacon sought to dissuade the technician from turning the computer over to police by assuring him that he would take care of the computer and notify the authorities. Instead, the deacon contacted Monsignor Robert Murphy, who handled allegations of sexual improprieties against priests.

Murphy had an informal conversation with a police officer who was a parish member. Murphy described in vague details a single picture that was among the most innocuous on the computer, according to the lawsuit. This was to minimize and cover up the priest’s child pornography, according to the lawsuit.

Murphy then turned the computer over to Julie Creech, the Diocese’s director of management information systems. Creech discovered as the private technician had “hundreds of photographs of young children, primarily girls,” according to the lawsuit. The photographs included pictures of naked girls.

Creech then advised Murphy to call the police, but he again failed to do so, according to the lawsuit. Rebecca Summers, the Diocese’s communications director, also counseled Murphy to contact police, according to the lawsuit. Murphy led Summers to believe he had consulted police, but in reality it was only a general conversation with a parish member who is a police captain, the family claims.

Instead of contacting the police, Murphy consulted with Finn. He repeatedly lied to protect Ratigan and the Diocese, according to the lawsuit.

“Monsignor had no such plan to consult with a police officer now that he had ‘too much’ information about the child pornography on the computer of an employee of the Diocese,” the lawsuit alleges. “The plan approved by Finn and the Diocese was to evade, conceal and destroy evidence only by sophisticated means that might create the appearance that defendants, including Ratigan, were incompetents.”

Diocese leaders wanted the computer “destroyed with plausible deniability that they were incompetents rather than intentionally assisting Ratigan, as they were,” according to the lawsuit.

The images were then copied and the computer and other items given to Jon Haden, an attorney for the diocese. No forensic copy of the computer hard drive was made. The lawsuit claims the information was given to Haden so it would be shrouded by the attorney-client privilege.

“The Diocese and Defendant Finn then arranged to dispose of the Ratigan computer so as to eliminate all record of the receipt and distribution of child pornography,” according to the lawsuit. “Defendant Finn invented a request from Ratigan’s family members for the Ratigan computer. Such a request did not exist.”

Haden then agreed to return the computer to Ratigan’s family. The lawsuit alleges that Haden, Finn and others knew Ratigan’s family would destroy the computer. The lawsuit claims they wanted the Internet records on the computer eliminated.

“As planned by Finn and the Diocese, the Ratigan family destroyed the Ratigan computer,” according to the lawsuit. “Finn and the Diocese intended the Ratigan family would destroy the computer, thereby destroying the evidence of the receipt and distribution of the child pornography it contained.”

Diocese leaders finally contacted authorities in May after officials say Ratigan continued to have inappropriate contact with children. Murphy told the police captain that hundreds of photos had been found on the laptop and the captain said the authorities must be involved, according to the lawsuit.

Ratigan was arrested in May on state charges related to child pornography. A search warrant was executed in St. Joseph and a Diocese-owned computer in St. Joseph was found to contain child pornography including pictures of the unidentified girl, the lawsuit alleges.

More pornographic pictures of the girl and other girls were found on compact discs at the homes of Ratigan family members, according to the lawsuit.

The girl and her family are seeking damages, including money to pay for the girl’s medical expenses.

Murphy no longer oversees allegations of a sexual nature against priests.

To read previous coverage, click here and here and here and here.

Copyright 2011 KCTV. All rights reserved.