KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said Thursday that it hired a former federal prosecutor to investigate its handling of the case of a priest who pleaded not guilty last month to possessing child pornography.
The investigation is part of a plan the diocese unveiled that includes a review of its policies and the appointment of an independent monitor to field and investigate reports of suspicious or inappropriate behavior by diocese employees.
“These are initial steps. Other actions are forthcoming,” Bishop Robert Finn said in a news release.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the plan “ridiculous” and a “distraction.” He said some of the efforts are identical to steps bishops agreed to take earlier. He said what really needs to happen is a grand jury investigation.
“The problem is that Finn has made a long series of deliberate decisions that have endangered kids and now he is trying to claim that `Oh, our policies just have some loopholes that need to be tightened,”’ Clohessy said.
Finn has apologized repeatedly for not taking action earlier in the case of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who pleaded not guilty to three counts of possessing child pornography. He’s is jailed on $200,000 bond.
Ratigan’s attorney John O’Connor declined to comment.
A lawsuit filed this month in Kansas City federal court on behalf of a young parishioner accuses Ratigan of taking pornographic pictures of the girl from 2006 to 2010. It also claims the diocese and Finn tried to cover up the priest’s crimes to save the church’s reputation.
The suit claims the diocese received complaints about Ratigan as early as 2006 but did not act on them. At the time of those complaints, top diocese officials were in mediation in another sexual abuse lawsuit that resulted in the diocese paying a $10 million settlement in 2008.
As part of that agreement, the diocese vowed to train its priests on sexual abuse and report any suspicions that children were being placed in danger.
Todd P. Graves, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri and the previous national co-chair of the Department of Justice Child Exploitation Working Group, will issue a report when he finishes reviewing the Ratigan case and the diocese’s sexual misconduct policies, procedures and training. The review is expected to take 30 to 45 days. In the meantime, members of the clergy were advised to review current policies addressing sexual misconduct. Finn pledged the complete cooperation of all diocesan personnel.
Finn said in the news release that the review will bring clarity out of the “shame, anger, and confusion” surrounding Ratigan’s arrest.
“In addition to our ongoing and full cooperation with law enforcement, this review will help us to determine the effectiveness of diocesan policies and procedures in a very troubling situation,” the bishop explained.
Earlier this month, the diocese removed the Rev. Michael Tierney from a Kansas City church over allegations of sexual misconduct with minors. Tierney has denied the allegations.
Clohessy said Finn and other church officials “knowingly left two dangerous priests - Ratigan and Tierney - around vulnerable kids and unsuspecting families for months if not years … No written policies are at fault. Self-serving church officials are at
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press