Friday, May 27, 2011

Kansas City Diocesan Officials Informed a Year Ago about Father Shawn Ratigan: Unfulfilled Promises to Put Children's Safety First

Head over to the website of the Catholic diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and you'll find a nifty little section linked right to the main page, called "Protecting Children."  Click a link on that sub-section site called "Report from the Bishop," and up pops a smiling photo of Bishop Robert Finn, pom-pom topped biretta in hand, followed by this statement:  

What seems very clear to me in everything we do and every new effort we put in place, is that our heartfelt goal and motive is the care, physical safety and spiritual well-being of our children and young people. This is a commitment we all share. Securing this with God's help makes every effort worthwhile.

But here's the thing: it now turns out that officials of this diocese knew a year ago that Father Shawn Ratigan, who was arrested May 19 for having child pornography on his computer, posed a serious threat to children.  In May 2010, Julie Hess, principal of a Catholic school in the diocese, wrote the diocesan vicar general Msgr. Robert Murphy, to say re: Ratigan,

Parents, staff members, and parishioners are discussing his actions and whether or not he may be a child molester.

Hess hand-delivered her letter.  And it took six months before the diocese began to do anything to address the situation.  Bishop Finn is claiming, in fact, that he was unaware that Ratigan's computer had pornographic images of children on it until this past December.

And so here's what we have--and this is why the people of God remain boiling mad in diocese after diocese throughout the U.S. and other places: we have nice, glitzy, media-driven messages topped by smiling bishops with birettas in their hands, saying, "In everything we do and every new effort we put in place . . . our heartfelt goal and motive is the care, physical safety and spiritual well-being of our children and young people."

And then we have the grim reality: vulnerable children left in the company of priests who pose serious threats to those children for half a year before church officials even begin to address the danger in which those children find themselves.   We have nice promises to put children first.  But in case after case in which children are in danger, we find that it's priests and bishops who count first and foremost.

Not the lay review boards charged to oversee these situations and assure the safety of Catholic children.  In this case, the Kansas City-St. Joseph board was never notified of the Ratigan case.

The laity don't count--not first.  Their vulnerable children don't count.  Not first and foremost.  What counts for the leaders of the Catholic church is themselves.  What counts first and above all for the church's leaders are the members of the clerical elite in whose hands all institutional power resides.

And until that changes, until the unequal distribution of power within the Catholic system of governance is effectively challenged and altered, we'll just continue to read more mind-boggling stories like the Ratigan story.  Or this one now making the news, about a situation in the diocese of Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, one of Pope Benedict's chief advisers re: the abuse crisis.

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