Friday, October 7, 2011

Kansas City Abuse Victims File Complaint Calling for Diocesan Accountability

Bishop Robert Finn Leaving Court, Kansas City, Sept. 2011

An important new development in the story of how the Catholic diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has responded to cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, including the case of Father Shawn Ratigan: as Joshua McElwee reports in National Catholic Reporter, yesterday lawyers representing 44 of 47 abuse victims who had received a settlement from the diocese in 2008 filed a formal court complaint alleging that the diocese has violated agreements it made in the 2008 settlement.

The complaint zeroes in on the diocesan-solicited report of former U.S. attorney Todd Graves released in September.  The diocese commissioned that outsider's report to help church officials understand how the case of Father Ratigan could have been so grievously mishandled.  The Graves report provides an in-depth study of how the diocese has been handling abuse cases in the recent past.  According to yesterday's complaint, the Graves report finds 17 instances in which the diocese has violated its 2008 agreement with victims.  In its 2008 settlement with the 47 victims of clerical sexual abuse, the diocese agreed to report sex abuse allegations to law enforcement officials at victims' request, and to follow its own published policies regarding reports of sex abuse. 

    McElwee reports that the complaint filed yesterday maintains that the diocese has breached its 2008 agreement in the following respects (inter alia):

    `  • The failure of the diocese to "pursue complaints" about Ratigan which were raised by Julie Hess, the principal of the school attached to Raitgan's parish, in May, 2010, alleging that the priest "fit the profile of a child predator" and spent too much time with students;
        • The failure of the diocese to disclose that nude photographs of children were found on Ratigan's laptop in Dec., 2010, until May, 2011;
        • That the diocese "took no steps to notify parents and families" at Ratigan's parish of the questions surround the priest;
        • That the diocese "enabled Fr. Ratigan to have contact with children" when it moved him to a house of Vincentian priests connected to a retreat center run by Franciscan sisters in January, 2011.

    As the attorneys representing the 2008 victims in their current complaint indicate, this legal action asks for no financial settlement with the victims (who were paid $10 million in 2008).  Its goal is to try to insure that future cases like Ratigan's will not be mishandled by diocesan authorities, and that children will be safeguarded in the future.

    The statement of the law firm filing the complaint, Jeff Anderson & Associates, is here.  Local news stories about the legal action can be found in the St. Joseph News Press, and Kansas City Star. And, as Barbara Dorris of SNAP notes,

    In 2008, 47 victims resolved their clergy sex abuse and cover up lawsuits against the KC MO diocese. As part of that deal, they insisted that Bishop Robert Finn and other top church officials commit to 19 non-economic reform steps. Now, in an unprecedented move, 44 of those victims are charging that Finn and his colleagues have broken six sections of the agreement, a total of roughly 20 times, in part by keeping two priests in ministry (Fr. James Tierney and Fr. Shawn Ratigan) despite credible allegations against them and by not reporting suspicions and knowledge of child sex crimes promptly to police and prosecutors.

    Finn also hasn’t honored his pledge to defrock four suspended or credibly accused clerics.

    I find legal developments like this one in Kansas City-St. Joseph encouraging for the following reason.  As SNAP and others monitoring the response of Catholic officials to sexual abuse cases have long noted, left to their own devices, allowed to police their own clerical system, Catholic pastoral leaders will (and have proven that they will, over and over again) cover up, hide, shelter abusive priests, thwart justice, and lie. 

    That leaves those of us who care about the well-being of children and about the church's fidelity to the mission given to it by Jesus no recourse except to invoke the power of secular criminal and legal systems, and of the media, to force our church leaders to be what they profess to be: bona fide pastoral leaders.  More actions like this current action are desperately needed in many places in the world to make that happen.

    And more actions like this action are undoubtedly coming, as long as Catholic pastoral leaders continue behaving as Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph has done right up to the present, despite his 2008 legal agreement to mend his ways--lying, covering up, and placing children in harm's way while putting the interests of the clerical club above the safety of minors.

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