Last Thursday I began to read the John Jay report over lunch. It had been released by the US Bishops the previous afternoon. The soundbite that got the most coverage, of course, was often summed up as “the ‘60s made them do it.” The report itself is far more interesting and informative than either the summary at the press conference or its dismissal by the media would suggest. But new cases continue to emerge even as the report was being issued
The day after the bishops held their press conference, Fr. Shawn Ratigan, of the Kansas City diocese, was arrested on several counts of possessing child pornography The first story is here from the Kansas City Star.
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in 1964, famously said of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” One would think that a bishop whose first pastoral letter was on the evils of pornography would likewise be able to recognize it, but apparently that wasn’t the case for Bishop Robert Finn.
Five months before Ratigan was arrested, Finn convinced himself that the images on the priest’s computer were “troubling but not pornographic.” Here is Finn’s statement on Ratigan’s arrest (and his regret that he didn’t take action sooner).
To help himself make the decision, he consulted the diocesan lawyer and described one of the photos to a ranking police officer who served on a diocesan board. By the letter of the law, it wasn’t “abuse” and there hadn’t been an “allegation” so there was no need to involve the lay review board. As bishops have been doing for decade upon decade, he would handle it himself.
This was not an old incident. Ratigan, 45, was ordained in 2004. He was in the seminary after the bishops has supposedly made improvements in “human formation.” And he was a “late vocation,” so presumably he’d had some exposure to the real world.
A commenter on one of our previous blog posts chided the blogger, saying that giving the names and ages of her children suggested that abuse was random when it was predominantly male predators and male victims. Ratigan’s photos were nearly all of girls between the ages of 3 and 12. Except for the 12-year-old, perhaps, well within the John Jay study’s definition of pedophilia.
The John Jay study pointed out that in a large number of the reported cases of abuse, the abusers were welcomed into the homes of their victims. It discussed the grooming behavior common to sexual predators. It also reminded the bishops that by and large the abusers were extremely manipulative and should not be allowed to justify their own actions.
This is where the Kansas City case is the perhaps the most damning. In the five months that Bishop Finn tried to avoid reporting the case to the police, how many of the families knew the whole story? Even though the bishop had forbidden Ratigan to have contact with children, he was still meeting families and one even invited him to their child’s birthday party. (News just breaking suggests that parents and teachers at one of the schools were concerned enough that the principal contacted the diocese–six months before the laptop photos surfaced, a full year before his arrest.) Bishop Finn was denying parents the knowledge they needed to protect their children.
When is it going to end? How can abusive priests still think they can get away with their actions? How can the bishops claim to be compliant when they’re still refusing to turn clear evidence over to the police and the courts? A number of people have pointed out that if Finn had asked any parent about the photos, he wouldn’t have gotten a careful, legal response.
What does it mean that these stories barely make the news anymore? Among the Catholic press, only the National Catholic Reporter carried the Kansas City story. It emerged in comments on the John Jay articles in America and Commonweal but not as a news item itself. Have any bishops have spoken publicly against (or even for!) Finn’s actions? Crickets.
Most of the prominent Catholic bloggers either didn’t hear about it or ignored it. One who did mention it was affected personally, and he reported that his young daughter was devastated by the news of a priest she had known and trusted. Todd continues to respond to the news at Catholic Sensibility. UPDATE: David Gibson at DotCommonweal has a post this morning.
Hundreds of families in at least two parishes in Kansas City are now wondering how their trust had been so badly betrayed. How many parishioners elsewhere will be wondering the same thing?
Photo of Bishop Robert Finn: CNS/Courtesy of The Catholic Key.