Defying Civil and Canon Laws, Church Failed to Stop a Priest
On the surface, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan was just the kind of dynamic new priest that any Roman Catholic bishop would have been happy to put in a parish. He rode a motorcycle, organized summer mission trips to Guatemala and joined Bishop Robert W. Finn and dozens of students on a bus trek to Washington for the “March for Life,” a big annual anti-abortion rally.
But in December 2010, Bishop Finn got some disturbing news: Father Ratigan had just tried to commit suicide by running his motorcycle in a closed garage. The day before, a computer technician had discovered sexually explicit photographs of young girls on Father Ratigan’s laptop, including one of a toddler with her diaper pulled away to expose her genitals.
The decisions that Bishop Finn and his second-in-command in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Msgr. Robert Murphy, made about Father Ratigan over the next five months ultimately led to the conviction of the bishop in circuit court on Thursday on one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse. It was the first time a Catholic bishop in the United States had been held accountable in criminal court in the nearly three decades since the priest sexual abuse scandals first came to light.
Both Bishop Finn and Monsignor Murphy, as ministers, were required by law to report suspected child abuse to the civil authorities. But they were also required to report under policies that the American bishops put in place 10 years ago at the height of the scandal — policies that now hold the force of canon law.