Portrait of a Possible Pedophile

I hesitate to post more news about priests who, depending on the reader’s point of view, have either done wrong, or are being wronged. But this Kansas City Star profile of Fr. Shawn Ratigan, the elementary-school chaplain charged with possessing child pornography, is so gripping, I had to share it.

What’s remarkable is that Ratigan — even as portrayed by the Church-baiting media, where Satan himself reigns as editor-in-chief — comes across as an admirable guy, in many ways. For example, he put his career plans on hold for twelve years in order to help keep his father’s business going:

Francis Ratigan, in turn, pleaded with judges to maintain the status quo as a legal separation. Suffering from a chronic respiratory problem and “major depression,” he depended on his wife’s health insurance, which a divorce would cut off.

Through this period, according to court records, Shawn Ratigan stayed with his father and even accepted the divorce papers being served on his dad. He also lent money to his father, and eventually rejoined him on the road, renovating churches after the divorce became final in 1988.

Recalling that period with the Catholic Key reporter, Ratigan said renovating churches with his father, who died in 2001, had a profound effect on him. The buildings still were working churches, with Mass celebrated daily. And the Eucharist always was present.

“It was an unusual opportunity,” Ratigan said. “Most people don’t get to spend 10 hours a day in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It changed me.”

He also seems to have been a gifted missionary:

While in St. Joseph, Ratigan also organized summer mission trips to Guatemala for students and their families.

According to accounts in school newsletters, the students helped spruce up school classrooms, built wood-burning stoves and ovens and brought donations from the United States.

A photo from one trip published in a 2008 church newsletter shows Ratigan playing “Duck-Duck-Goose” with Guatemalan school children.

The Rev. Jerry Waris said Ratigan joined him and other members of a delegation that visited El Salvador in January 2010.

Waris said he wanted Ratigan, who had just taken over as pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church in the Northland, to continue the church’s mission work there. Ratigan seemed to

embrace the experience, Waris remembered.
“He got to meet the people of that community and seemed to enjoy the trip,” Waris said.

With his previous experience in Central America, Ratigan committed himself to maintaining the church’s relationships with impoverished parishes there, Waris said.

“That week was probably the most time I spent with him,” Waris said. “There was nothing that took place that would have alarmed me.”

Unlike many confirmed predators, who have shown themselves incapable of remorse, Ratigan wrote a sucide note, “apologizing for harm he had caused the church, the children and his family.” In its own small way, the note, if not the suicide attempt, was an honorable act.

Ratigan hasn’t been convicted of possessing kiddie porn yet, and no one’s accused him of actually touching a child, so it might be unfair to compare him to known pedophiles. Nevertheless, reading about his good side reminded me of something Diarmuid Martin, Dublin’s archbishop, once told Maureen Dowd.. “The trouble is that child sexual abusers don’t look like devils,” Martin said. “They look like charmers. If pedophiles had horns on their noses, no one would go near them.”

Not only can evil be banal, it can be quite pleasant — and the pleasasntness may be less a conscious act of dissimulation than a natural expression of genuine goodness. That must be obvious to a lot of people, but not to me. Try as I might to change, I still base my worldview on Grade-B westerns — whiet hats, black hats.

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