When Is It Going to End?

When Is It Going to End?

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.

‘I Know It When I See It’?

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.

Common Misperceptions

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.

What About the Families?

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.

What Next?

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.


About the Author

Diane M. Houdek is Digital Editor for Franciscan Media as well as an editor in the book department. She is the author of Lent with St. Francis, Advent with St. Francis and Pope Francis and Our Call to Joy. She is an avid knitter and spinner and shares her home with four rambunctious dogs. Born and raised in Wisconsin, she has tried her hand at urban farming and a host of other pursuits and hobbies.
  • Mlwlib

    Oh it was a simple mistake…  Oh, it is only a small minority… 
    It is time to stop this in its tracks.  No excuses, no passing the buck.  Your article is enlightening.  Thanks very much!

  • Florin S.

    Children learn when they receive consequences for their bad behavior. If there are no consequences, then the behavior will continue. Where is the discernment policy for incoming vocations? Men entering the seminary should have a well balanced, healthy sexuality – they should been dating, in healthy relationships with both sexes…they should make good fathers and good husbands. If these elements are missing, they should be passed over until the aspirant gets help. Why do these sexual issues continue…sorry to say, but some Bishops have turned away, have refused to face or deal with the issues. This not only perpetuates the problem but it denies the aspirant the possibility of conversion. Remember the blazing hot letter Pope Benedict rightly sent to the Irish Bishops re: sexual abuse? When I read that, I remember thinking: “This is a powerful and good letter but as horrendous as it is for children or minors to be abused, it is far more horrendous to have unborn babies’ lives terminated.” And why does this slaughter of the innocents continue? For several reasons – but the one that concerns me the most is the fact that our Bishops disagree about whether or not Catholic politicians who support and advocate for abortion are to be considered  Catholics in good standing and therefore should be permitted to receive the Eucharist.  We had Joe Biden not only support abortion but he went to Africa to coerce the Africans to allow abortion rights in their  country, promising them that if they would, then the money would flow – despite the fact that Africans have declared over and over that they do not want to kill their babies…but that they desperately need our help. and yet, Biden is considered a Catholic in good standing and permitted, therefore, to receive the Eucharist.  Shameful and cowardly!!!  And so the killing continues…and those who stand by and dialogue about whether those who take part in this genocide of the human race  by promoting and advocating for abortion
    should be considered Catholics in good standing and receive the Eucharist have the blood of these innocents on their hands and their consciences whether they acknowledge it or not!

  • Florin S.

    When I click on ‘view comments’ nothing happens…anyone know why? thanks..

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