The more you read about this case, the more it defies credulity.
First, the headline yesterday from the National Catholic Reporter: Diocese warned of priest’s aberrant behavior one year before arrest.
The principal of a Catholic elementary school warned the Kansas City-St. Joseph chancery office that a local priest “fit the profile of a child predator” six months before the diocese took any action to remove him from ministries dealing with children.
Fr. Shawn Ratigan, 45, was arrested May 19 on three counts of possessing child pornography, six months after the diocese took its first action to limit the priest’s involvement with children by moving him to a local home for religious sisters.
The letter, written by Julie Hess, the principal of Saint Patrick School, is dated May 19, 2010 — nearly one year before the arrest. In her letter, Hess pleads with the diocesan vicar general, Msgr. Robert Murphy, to consider a list of incidents teachers observed at the school involving Ratigan that “raised significant red flags.”
NCR confirmed the authenticity of the letter with a source at the school who did not wish to be identified. The diocesan communications director, Rebecca Summers, confirmed by phone that Murphy had received a letter from Hess about a year ago, but said she could not comment further on it. Calls to Murphy this afternoon have not been returned.
“I seek to fulfill my responsibility as school principal in relaying a growing body of parent and teacher concerns regarding Pastor Shawn Ratigan’s perceived inappropriate behavior with children,” writes Hess at the beginning of the letter.
“Parents, staff members, and parishioners are discussing his actions and whether or not he may be a child molester.”
The principal then outlines a series of incidents reported to her by members of the school’s faculty and students’ parents that raised concerns.
* Ratigan allowing students to “climb on him, grab his leg/s, and reach into his pockets for candy;”
* A report from two teachers that Ratigan “swung a fifth grade girl up over his head, even though she was wearing a uniform skirt.”
* An incident during a school basketball game when a first grade girl had “wrapped both of her hands and arms around [Ratigan’s] and was trying to cuddle up to him.” A few minutes after a teacher moved the girl to a bench behind the priest, the girl “had moved back next to Father in the previous position.”
* Reports from parents of photos on Ratigan’s Facebook page showing “pictures of children sitting in his lap, and tossing a young girl in a 2-piece swimsuit up in the air while swimming.”
* The fact that “Father takes hundreds of pictures of the kids, not just during special events, but on field trips and in their everyday school activities.” Hess continues: “A few parents have mentioned that they think it’s strange and wonder what he does with all the pictures.”
Now, today, the astonishing news about how the men in the diocese who were responsible dealt with this matter:
Bishop Robert W. Finn said today he had not seen a year-old letter from a Catholic elementary school principal warning of the aberrant behavior of a local priest who was arrested May 19 for possessing child pornography.
Finn said he only saw the letter from principal Julie Hess yesterday.
Hess delivered the letter to the diocesan vicar general in May 2010 — exactly one year before the arrest of Fr. Shawn Ratigan and seven months before the diocese removed him from his parish.
At a press conference called for 3 p.m. today, Finn said he was given a “brief verbal summary” of the letter by Murphy a year ago, that he had read it in its entirety for the “first time” last night (May 26), and that, “to the best of his knowledge,” no one other than the vicar general had read the letter before yesterday.
Finn said: “Hindsight makes it clear that I should have requested from Msgr. Murphy an actual copy of the report.”