The Sad Facts of Another Scandal

Thanks to the media, American Catholics will soon be treated to another sad chapter in the story of clergy sex abuse. In fact, that may already have happened. Without little advance notice, the trial of Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City, Mo., for supposedly not moving fast enough to tell authorities about a troubled priest was shifted from an original starting date of September 24 to September 5, with an early decision by the trial judge expected.

In case you wonder, it gives me no pleasure to write about these things. I do so now because  it’s better to have facts in hand than not to have them. In outline, then, the facts of this unhappy tale are as follows.

Although there had been rumbles earlier about possible trouble involving a Kansas City pastor, Father Shawn Ratigan, it was only in December, 2010 that Bishop Finn learned that disturbing photographs of young children had been found on the priest’s laptop computer.

With his secret discovered, Father Ratigan on December 17 attempted suicide by shutting himself in the garage with the engine of his motorcycle running. Bishop Finn sent him out of state  for psychiatric evaluation and, upon his return, assigned him to  a sisters’ convent as a kind of chaplain, with strict orders to stay away from kids.

Despite that warning, the priest was seen at public events involving children. Based on this new information, Bishop Finn notified the authorities, and the police arrested him on May 19. Next day, the bishop went to Father Ratigan’s former parish. There, in a grueling session with parishioners, he said, “I should have done differently in this regard, and I’m sorry.”

In federal court last month, Father Ratigan entered a guilty plea to five child pornography counts.  As this is written, he’s awaiting sentencing, with several other lawsuits against him pending.

Because of that five month December-May delay in reporting the priest, Bishop Finn and the Kansas City diocese were charged with not meeting the notification requirements of the law.

This Kansas City case is very different from that of Msgr. William Lynn, former secretary for clergy in the Philadelphia archdiocese, who last July 23 was sentenced to three to six years in prison on a single count of child endangerment for his role in giving new parish assignments to abusive priests. An appeal of the decision is said to be likely. Monsignor Lynn is currently the highest ranking Church official in the United States to be tried for an abuse-related offense. As of September 24, Bishop Finn will claim that dubious distinction.

So what are concerned Catholics to make of all this? Here is a partial, tentative answer.

Ten years ago, responding to a barrage of disclosures of abuse and coverup, the U.S. bishops overwhelmingly adopted a policy of what was called zero tolerance for abusive priests. That policy was subsequently approved by the Holy See. Evidently zero tolerance is also the policy now in place in the American legal system—at least, where Catholic clerics are  concerned.

From this non-lawyer’s point of view, Bishop Finn’s mistake was hoping Father Ratigan might be rehabilitated if given a second chance. Under “zero tolerance,” it appears, Church authorities aren’t allowed to make that mistake.

There was a time when the Church handled problems like Ratigan on its own. That time passed, largely because, instead of handling the problems, religious authorities sometimes swept them under the rug. But its passing also has human costs, as the news from Kansas City reminds us.


Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • Jan

    This is so, so sad. I agree that it would be ideal if we could deal with such things “in house.” But a priest (or other pastor) is in such a unique position: to do good, or to do evil. His position requires that his flock can trust him, and any abuse of that trust must be dealt with decisively–especially now, in the aftermath of the scandals. I have to wonder why any bishop would have made this tragic, mistaken judgment. We have to learn from our mistakes. We must. We must be a beacon of light shining out in the darkness of the world. God bless our priests, and let us all remember they need our prayers.

  • As one who has experienced this first hand….why in the world would ANYONE want a crime like this handled “in house”? Ones actions have consequences! If he had murdered, committed fraud, raped…should that be handled “in house”? If one is viewing these children on-line, you might as well be participating in their abuse (rape), since you are monetarily promoting it, which promotes this horrific crime. Following in the wake of the 60’s & the sexual revolution, too many of the Bishops drank the wine of the Spirit of the Age and became, not Defenders of the Faith & the Strong Shepherds of the Flock, but your hearts & flowers friend who doesn’t want to offend anybody. “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor
    cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”(Rev. 3:16 N.A.B.).

    The bishop thought that this priest could be rehabilitated; IN 5 MONTHS???? Along with his suicide attempt??? The victims will need rehab for YEARS!!! I remain IN the church, I pray for our bishops & priests, it will not happen again on my watch…because if I find out ANY are abusing children that I can protect….God help them.

  • Michelle Marie Allen

    I am horrified that Finn sent Ratigan to an “out-of-state” psychiatric evaluation (Ratigan’s attempted suicide) and want an answer to what exactly compelled Finn to not take immediate action and notify civil authorities ie police, when child pornography was found on Ratigan’s personal computer (or was it a Diocesean computer that Ratigan was allowed to have ?). Compassion for this man ? What about justice and compassion for those victims of sexual abuse in the pictures ?
    The Holy See had instructed ALL clergy to comply with civil authorities in a policy of “Zero Tolerance” in all matters pertaining to child sexual abuse ! Obviously Finn thought he knew more than the Holy See !
    What was this Bishop thinking ? And what about the Archbishop of the KC Diocese ? Does he not know what goes on in his diocese ? This type of response to a criminal matter is why Mother Church is losing her creditability that she truly cares about CHILDREN, ANY CHILD , Catholic or not !
    There is NO EXCUSE for Finn and Ratigan’s behavior in this matter ! They both should be “defrocked” ! Immediately !
    I am a faithful Catholic who is angered that these child abusers and those who enable them, are spitting in the face of Mother Church over and over again and harming children; ANY child ! Jesus said –
    “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” [Luke 17:2]
    God have mercy on us ALL !

  • Kay

    With all the information out there about these types of conditions, I don’t know why a Bishop would tell a priest, who clearly has mental issues/addictions, to “stay from kids”, and trust that he will. That’s insane. The church will learn, hopefully, sooner rather than later. This article doesn’t convince me of the Bishop’s innocence.

  • mom

    This case opens our eyes to the addiction of pornography. Fr. Ratigan is a sick man; he has an addiction to pornography. To my understanding there has been no indication of direct child abuse as pornographic pictures can be found on all computers. Because this does not fall under the typical sex abuse cases, Bishop Finn had Fr.Ratigan evaluated and removed from priestly duties and children.My question is how many men are addicted to pornography that continue to be in society with children. They are your brother, uncle, father, and husband. And yes your child’s teacher or college buddy. Have they been found out or keeping it a secret. Society encourages soft porn and now hard porn. Child porn is an evil from the same tree. Porn is rampid in our society……..we need to wake up as a society and say we have a problem and there are victims, not just the children.. Then stop whining and pointing fingers and start looking at the promoters of it. Enough is enough.

  • Eighty-five percent of the laity believe in contraception, causing millions of deaths of helpless children each year. I wonder who crime will be most notriced by God? When will our crimes be in court? There is no excuse for the laity. Where is the zero tolerence in this matter. Obviously the Laity think they know more than the Holy See! Blame the clergy, blame the laity, for there is no excuse for the laity in this matter.

  • Kay

    Here is from the other 15% of the laity that doesn’t believe in contraception, and feels the same as you Donald. Our priests/pastors, Bishops are our shepards. Do you know how many times I hear about contraception from the pulpit? Next to none. As a matter of a fact, when I got married we were taught about condoms in our Marriage Encounter weekend sponsored by the Diocese. The chickens have come home to roost, and we are paying as a church. ALL of us. My friend’s CATHOLIC High School (early 80’s) brought in Planned Parenthood to teach them about contraception. I learned about the beauty of NFP, welcoming children, and the churches beautiful teaching about not contracepting on my own. Until we clean house and realize that society is looking to do the church in, so we must be above everyone else in morals, we will lose. There are many great diocese in the country, we are working on it, and that’s a good thing.

  • Michelle Marie Allen

    “To my understanding there has been no indication of direct child abuse as pornographic pictures can be found on all computers.”
    Excuse me but that is NOT true ! Pornography can only be on a computer if viewed or downloaded ! A computer that is factory direct and has never been exposed to a website that panders and caters to the pedophile/sexually addicted has NO porn on it ! Your adding insult to injury by making an excuse that this incident was not “direct child abuse” is another form of victimization to those children who were violated by those pictures being taken of them !
    Please rethink your statement.

  • U believe the action against the Bishop is a good thing. Sometimes people will only learn the hard way. And this will hopefully scare the rest of the Bishops to comply.

    There is still a tendency among Bishops to cater more towards their priests than to behave like a Shepherd of the flock. They seem to be more interested in preserving the Hierarchy.

    This also shows that Bishops too need education on psychology/psychiatry to understand behaviors and how they can be modified or can’t.

  • mom

    each computer has the capability was my intent I realize the user is at fault for putting it on. my comment was meant to say so many men are addicted to porn and it is becoming so easy to do so.because of our communication capabities. The children are of course the main vicims of the porn industry But there are those taking the pictures and making them available, This is a huge problem and with no care for the immense addiction porn has on our society. I believe people in general priest or bishop do not realize it either.

  • concerned

    I’m sorry but this bishop should be charged. After all of the scandel and the USCCB’s guidelines of how to handle abusive priests, this bishop decided to “protect” this man from the legal consequences of his actions. The legal system should always be notified. The bishop should deal with the spiritual consequences of these events and leave the legal issues to the proper authority. he did not have the authority to make this decision. Now he has broken the law himself.

  • If he had knowledge of a murder, or rape….and did not report it….Would there be a question? The different reaction to Pedo shows a deep seated issue. The sickness is many “religious” don’t really see what the big fuss is all about….because many have the same issues themselves.

  • TheMediaReport .com

    As much as people (and the KC prosecutor) have faulted Bishop Finn, people have neglected to realize a very important fact: Two computer technicians, a monsignor, a diocesan lawyer, a vice chancellor, a psychiatrist, and a deacon ALL saw the vile images from Ratigan’s computer but NONE of them called the police.

    Bishop Finn has stated he “never saw the images,” but he was the one who was prosecuted. Go figure.

  • Voice in the Desert

    Bishop Finn should resign. Period. He violated both civil law, Church law and the moral law as a Shepherd. Certainly bishop has done many good things as a bishop, but in this, there is simply no excuse. And I also take exception to Mr. Russell’s characterization of “supposedly” not moving fast enough. And then there is $1.3M legal bill to the diocese (the flock) for Bishop Finn’s defense. Sad, shocking, another scandal. Step down as did the bishops in Ireland.

  • andrew

    This is a poorly written article that excludes facts the Catholic League have already made known: From the Catholic League.
    On December 16, 2010, a computer technician found crotch-shot pictures of children, fully clothed, on Ratigan’s computer; there was one that showed a girl’s genitals exposed. The next day Ratigan attempted suicide. The Vicar General, Msgr. Robert Murphy, without seeing the photos, contacted a police officer about this matter. The officer, after consulting with another cop, said a single photo of a non-sexual nature would not constitute pornography. After a few more of the same types of photos were found, an attorney rendered the same judgment: they were not pornographic.
    Finn then asked a psychiatrist to evaluate Ratigan. The bishop was given the judgment of a professional: the priest was not a risk to children (he was diagnosed as suffering from depression). Finn then placed restrictions on Ratigan, which he broke. When it was found that Ratigan was again using a computer, upon examination more disturbing photos were found. Murphy then called the cops (Finn was out of town) and a week later Ratigan was arrested. Yesterday, Finn was found guilty of one misdemeanor of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse.

  • Justice for Bishop Finn

    Visit for resources on the facts. Bishop Finn is the scapegoat for those under him, that is why the prosecution gave Monsignor Murphy “immunity from prosecution”. If he was innocent, why did he get immunity.

  • jarhead1969

    Our Lord told St. Catherine of Sienna that the sin of Sodomy was so despicable, sot detesatble that even the devi,who tempts the soul, l leaves the room in disgust at the commission of this perversion against nature, something even detestable to the nature of the devils.
    Sadly, this problem of homosexuality, of child pornography, and all the sins accompanying this detestable vice, have crept into the clergy and hierarchy in mass. Bella Dodd on her testimony to the UnAmercian Committee in 1956, had testified that she herself had infiltrted over 1000 Communist agents into the clergy, many of whom today have reached high postions in the Church and many who were and are homosexuals. A Croation priest in Wash. State sent a copy of an investigation that he documented in the 1980’s to Pope John Paul II, which containted evidence and testimony from priests and seminarians, of the “rapes” happening in “homosexual or Pink” seminaries whose rectors and authorities are homosexuals. In 1976, a book was published called “AA`1025” which was a report from a Canadian nurse who opened a locked briefcase belonging to a priest in a comma in a Vancover hospital, whose diary stated that he was one of 1025, inflitrators into the Catholic Church from his group alone, a homosexul. All these communists and deviates were infiltrated into the Church with the mission to destroy the faith and attack the foundations of the Church, many today are Bishops and Cardinals, Rectors of Seminaries, and priest is postions of varied influence; we have to wait until God cleans house His way, and He will, in the not too distant future. Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, protect us.

  • Kay, I believe the Laity has to remove the plank from thier own eye before remove the speck from the clergy. The Laity has forced this upon the clergy. Contraception is the issue not clergy abuse. This is ownly an attempt to change that issue. It is the Laity and the contraception issue that is the real reason for these events. The clergy have tried to take upon themselves the sins of the Laity. This has only weaken the clergy!

  • Michelle Marie Allen

    We are ALL members of the Body of Christ ! The plank from
    the eye reference is just an indicator that the Body of Christ is being
    blindsided… both laity as well as the clergy. The clergy is weakened by both
    the laity and its respective clergymen. Let us not “dismember” the
    Body of Christ by blaming one another !

    Divine Mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus…have Mercy on
    ALL of US so that we may heal !

  • Mortal sin divides us. Those who choose to remain in mortal sin choose to remain outside the Body of Christ, and they are not members of that Body.

  • Michelle Marie Allen

    Thank you Mr.Hudzinski for clarification. I was not aware of this . Of course I checked via the CCC as well as the Encyclical of Pope Pius XII, MYSTICI CORPORIS CHRISTI (ON THE MYSTICAL BODY OF CHRIST), regarding the nature of the true meaning of the Body of Christ. Your statement encouraged me to seek more understanding thereby making it possible for me to “know” my faith much better.
    I still find it incredulous that 85% of the laity believe in contraception other than NFP.
    Again, thank you and God Bless !

  • chaco

    NAIVETE – I see it all boiling down to “Forgive them, they know not what they do !” Sure, it’s all a matter of degree which is a good thing because only God can read the Heart (determine degree of culpability). Thereby, leaving us the capability of at least a glimmer of hope for anyone’s soul. If the Bishop had never experienced 1st hand how “a little yeast pervades the whole loaf”, he may have been NAIVE as to the amount of rehabilitation & maintenance required to correct such an addiction. Until someone sees the mutilation of an aborted fetus, they are NAIVE to the violence. Until someone has a friend killed due to substance abuse, it is merely a victimless crime where people are just having a little fun. “The Glass is 1/2 full”. We are all becoming less NAIVE – No matter what the “Big Money Social Engineering Media” tries to convey. The Holy Spirit is alive and well- convicting the conscience of many (see Jn 8: 9). [Don’t Gloat ! about the sins of others; it can hinder this work of the H.S. (see Prov. 24: 17-18)] And Never Forget !; “Those who started at the end of the day receive the same pay as those who started earlier.” (Mt. 20: 1-16). [This is fair if we consider that working in the Lord’s vinyard is a reward in itself.] “Jesus, I trust in thee.”