Parents claim diocese cover up led to child abuse by priest - KCTV5

Parents claim diocese cover up led to priest abusing their daughter

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INDEPENDENCE, MO (KCTV) -

The parents of a 9-year-old girl claimed Thursday that a coverup by the area diocese and its bishop led to a priest taking sexual advantage of their daughter.

Father Shawn Ratigan repeatedly took pornographic pictures of the girl, according to a federal grand jury indictment issued against Ratigan on Tuesday.

This included taking pictures of the girl's crotch area Easter Sunday in late April after a computer repairman had discovered pornographic pictures on a computer used by Ratigan, according to the indictment.

The girl and her parents Thursday filed a civil lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court against Ratigan, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Bishop Robert Finn. The lawsuit also says sexually explicit pictures of the girl were taken by Ratigan in May, which is when he first faced charges in Clay County Court.

Ratigan, 45, has pleaded not guilty to the state charges. His attorneys could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

The diocese declined comment on the specifics of the lawsuit.

Finn previously has said he made some failings in the case, including saying that he was unaware that a principal had complained about Ratigan's behavior around children more than a year before Ratigan was arrested in May.

But the girl's parents say Finn purposefully concealed the principal's report to protect Ratigan, the diocese and himself "from scandal."

The girl's parents say Finn's shortcomings go far beyond just this. The parents makes specific and detailed allegations about Finn and other diocese leaders actions in the 28-page lawsuit, saying they aided and abetted in Ratigan's abuse of children.

"The diocese intentionally hid from parents and others that Father Ratigan had abused children in the past," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that a diocese employee complained about Ratigan's behavior around a 4-year-old girl in 2006 but that the diocese and Finn purposefully concealed the report to shield the diocese from scandal.

The diocese and Finn also brushed off the principal's report in May 2010. Among the nearly two dozen allegations in that report were claims that teachers had "to intervene and directly tell children not to jump on Father Shawn, not to hang on his legs and not to put their hands in his pockets any more."

Parishioners found a girl's panties in a planter in his backyard while Brownie Scouts were planting flowers at Ratigan's home, according to the lawsuit. His home "seemed inappropriately child like, including having stuffed animals all over the furniture and kitchen hand towels shaped like doll clothes."

In December, Ratigan took his personal laptop in for repairs and a computer technician discovered naked pictures of little girls on the laptop, including pictures of girls' vaginas, according to court documents.

The computer repairman alerted a diocese deacon to the images. Church officials then asked a diocese computer technician to review the laptop, according to police investigators. Copies of the image were made but the laptop was turned over to Ratigan's family, who then destroyed the laptop, according to investigators. A church official in December described a single picture over the phone to a police officer, investigators have said.

The diocese didn't give the images to police until May. In the ensuing months, Ratigan remained with the diocese. Diocese officials have said they contacted police in May after Ratigan ignored warnings to stay away from children, including on St. Patrick's Day and Easter Sunday.

Ratigan tried to commit suicide after the computer repairman found the pictures, according to court records. A suicide note was found in which Ratigan expressed sorrow for the harm he had caused the church, children and his family, according to court records.

The girl and her parents allege in their lawsuit filed Thursday that parishioners were asked to pray for Ratigan as he recuperated from carbon monoxide poisoning.

"The children at St. Patrick's were encouraged and/or required to write get well notes to Father Ratigan," according to the lawsuit.

After recuperating, Ratigan was assigned in February to assist as a chaplain at a convent in Independence. The Sisters of St. Francis often host young girl's for retreats, dinners and other events, according to court records.

The girl and her parents say Finn and diocese leaders failed to warn parents that children should be kept from Ratigan and failed to notify Missouri social workers. 

In fact, Ratigan stayed some weekends at the home of Catholic parishioners "who had young children and had no warning or understanding about Father Ratigan's prospensity to photograph and abuse children," according to the lawsuit. Ratigan went to homes for dinners and children's parties and took pictures of children this spring, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also claims that Finn personally gave permission for Ratigan to be co-presiding priest at a girl's in May, months after the pornographic images were discovered.

The diocese alerted authorities to the pictures on May 13, which included pictures of the 9-year-old girl.

Ratigan, the diocese and Finn were sued by another girl in June. The girl and her parents allege Ratigan engaged in sexual misconduct with the girl from 2006 through 2010.

Mike Hunter, a member of a group which is seeking Finn's ouster, said the latest allegations "are horrible."

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the specific details in the lawsuit show "continual and very recent recklessness on the part of Bishop Finn and his staff."

Authorities have said they are seeking to identify pictures of young girls that they say were found on electronic equipment that Ratigan had access to.

In a statement, the diocese said to the girl and her parents who filed the lawsuit Thursday, "Our utmost concerns are for you, your daughter and the anguish of your family. While we do not know your names or the nature of your relationship with Shawn Ratigan, we condemn the destructive behaviors attributed to him."

Click here to read previous reports on this ongoing story.

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