Shock: KC becomes first diocese ever sued over child pornography

Shock: KC becomes first diocese ever sued over child pornography July 2, 2011

The sad story of Kansas City just seems to get worse.


The Kansas City Catholic Diocese is defending itself against a groundbreaking lawsuit involving the alleged distribution of child pornography.

The attorney representing a family suing the Kansas City Catholic Diocese says this is the first time that someone has sued the Catholic Church for violating federal child pornography laws.

“The (federal) law has pretty severe penalties for anyone who holds or views or otherwise distributes any kind of pornography. And we believe that the allegations against the diocese fall clearly and firmly within (the federal) law,” attorney Rebecca Randles told KCTV’s Stacey Cameron.

Bishop Robert Finn, who oversees the Kansas City diocese, citing the pending lawsuit repeatedly declined requests from KCTV5 Investigator Stacey Cameron to discuss the case.

The allegations center around a Kansas City priest and how the diocese handled complaints about Shawn Ratigan, including the discovery of a picture of a naked girl on his personal laptop. The priest was living at the Sisters of St. Frances of the Holy Eucharist in Independence when he was arrested in May.

The 45-year-old Ratigan has been charged in Clay County Circuit Court with violating Missouri child pornography laws. Prosecutors allege that Ratigan took lewd pictures of young girls, which police in court documents say they found uploaded on his personal computer and a church computer.

Ratigan has pleaded not guilty.

Finn previously has said he made some failings in the case, including saying that he unaware that a principal had complained about Ratigan’s behavior around children more than a year before Ratigan was arrested. Finn has tapped former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate the diocese’s handling of the case.

Ratigan is accused of taking nude pictures of a three-year-old girl and four-year-old girl, according to court documents. Randles also alleges that child pornography was found on a camera owned by Ratigan.

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

The computer repairman alerted the diocese 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 five months,  Ratigan remained with the diocese. Diocese officials have said they contacted police in May after Ratigan ignored warnings to stay away from children.

Finn has apologized for his actions.

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42 responses to “Shock: KC becomes first diocese ever sued over child pornography”

  1. This story (conveniently) leaves out the fact, earlier reported in the Catholic Key, that the diocese went to police IMMEDIATELY upon discovering the photos in question in December. The police determined that the photos did not represent child pornography and therefore there was nothing that was criminally actionable in them.

    From that point forward, Shawn Ratigan was removed from parish ministry, sent to a convent and forbidden contact with children. Allegations to the contrary (that Ratigan was given access to children after December) is untrue.

    The idea that Bishop Finn attempted a cover up is a blatant lie being put forward by an attorney who has much to gain by pointing the finger and nothing to lose. Trust her judgment at your own risk.

    This KCTV story is purposely written to lead one to believe that Ratigan was arrested for the very same photos discovered in December, That isn’t true. The photos that led to Ratigan’s arrest in May were not the same ones, and unlike the December photos, they were judged by police to be child pornography. And, they were reported to police not by some whistle blower, but by the diocese as well. So much for cover up.

    Lastly, the claim that “one photo” was described to police in December is another obvious attempt to create controversy where there is none. According to previously published reports, the diocese described the most damning of the photos (that of a nude child) to police. This was in no way an attempt to hide Ratigan’s activity, on the contrary.

    My advice to readers – take the time to read ALL of the relevant facts from trustworthy sources before you condemn Bishop Finn.

    There are liberal Catholics fueling the fire here, not for the love of children, but for hatred of what they consider a “conservative” bishop. I’ve encountered a disturbing number of faithful Catholics, who understandably weary of scandal, are naively willing to join them in bashing a shepherd who has never given us any reason to doubt his authenticity. Don’t be one of them.

  2. I in no way excuse the bishop, et. al. for what happened in KC. The bishop clearly, IMO, tried to cover-up a crime and ‘control’ this priest himself (after ignoring complaints!) in violation of all the new norms and age-old morality he was supposed to follow. It was a willful violation and I hope he is personally held legally and canonically accountable to the fullest extent.

    But I have a technical / legal question about this case. They are calling the nude pictures pornography. I understand they were lewd but I thought a sex act had to be depicted for it to be legally classified as pornography? There is no mention of sex act depiction in anything I’ve read so far. I have to wonder if this civil suit is falsely inflammatory on purpose and whether that could backfire on the litigants. If federal crimes of pornography distribution had been committed wouldn’t the bishop already have been charged?

  3. It is a sad story, but this doesn’t indicate it getting worse.

    This lawsuit was filed exactly one month ago with much fanfare. KCTV5 just decided, like many Kansas City news orgs, to run the story again.

  4. This is exactly the kind of prosecution which needs to happen. All priest abuse cases start as crimes of an individual. When they are concealed by his superiors, as they have been 100% of the time, they become organized criminal activity.

  5. I might add also, that this story was merely free advertising for the plaintiff’s attorney. The reporter knew the diocese could not litigate the case in a one-on-one news story with the plaintiffs attorney.

    It was produced as a hit piece simply to keep the story going and attention off how the diocese is constructively responding.

  6. I am shocked at the one-sidedness of this article. And, @Louie Verrecchio who commented above. God bless you.

  7. Louie Verrecchio is absolutely wrong. The diocese did NOT got to the police in December. They described ONE photo out of the many that were discovered on Ratigan’s lap top to a member of the diocese who happened to be a police officer. That’s a lot different than going to the police department with ALL the evidence at their disposal and turning Ratigan in. The way Finn’s defenders distort the truth is really disheartening.

  8. Bishop Finn IS a man of integrity. He did not cover up a crime deliberately. If the police said there was no crime in December, that was the ruling. And he was removed from contact with kids which is also protocol but as he was not charged with a crime, this was what was to be done.

    The priest is a sex addict and should be removed, of course. But everyone is just so shocked as if ‘soft’ porn was not shown to children in the name of ‘sex education’ or does not decorate the covers of magazines all over the racks or as if pornography addiction is not pandemic–which, of course, it is.

    It ony is ‘shocking’ if a priest succumbs to it and then the devil can play it up for the most mileage and scandal. And of course there is the greed factor. Plenty of sin to go around.

  9. My mom taught me to know what I am talking about before opening my mouth. Sadly, I think most moms didn’t do the same.

  10. Thanks Louie, for the real facts. I hope some people take time to read past the lopsided article to the actual facts in your comments.

  11. This is just more fuel to increase ratings. Thank You Louie Verrecchio for getting the correct side of the story out.

    Interesting that KCTV has chosen to leave so many facts out.

    I am praying for Bishop Robert Finn and the Priest Shawn Ratigan.
    Before I cast the first stone I must first be sinless. So I will be not judging who or what… I don’t know.

  12. Deacon Kandra, why not ask for a one-on-one interview with Bishop Finn before adding more fuel to the fire? I find it terribly disconcerting to see how many people have already formed their opinions or have unwittingly helped add to the misinformation without ever being privy to the complete truth. Perhaps we will never know the whole truth, because social networking tends more to gossip and speculation. We need to pray for our Bishops, our priests, and our deacons. May I quote from the Douay-Rheims bible: Philippians 4:8 For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things.

  13. Paul,

    Whether or not the police officer was a practicing Catholic is of no relevance whatsoever. He was approached AS A POLICE OFFICER as to a possible crime and rendered his opinion AS A POLICE OFFICER that such was not the case. In any case, Ratigan was banished from parish ministry from that point forward.

    Go ahead and play judge and jury if you’d like, but at least have the common decency to do so with at least the pretense of objectivity.

  14. Louie,
    I agree absolutely with Paul’s description of what happened. This was a personal consultation by the bishop, asking for an opinion from a Catholic who happened to be a policeman. What actually happened does not rise to your description of ‘contacting the police’ as you would like everyone to believe. My pastor has asked my opinion as an RN on certain medical issues involving elderly parishioners (confidentially of course) – that does not make my advice carry any actual professional weight as he clearly understands I am not their nurse nor have I examined them. He would never fail to report something he thought was abuse regardless of my subjective opinion.

    Incidentally, that policeman is a mandatory reporter who was made aware of child sexual abuse and he may very well find himself in hot water for not advising the bishop to file a formal complaint or opening the investigation himself. Stay tuned on that once they identify the child in the picture.

    You also have conveniently ignored the fact that the bishop and his vicar tried to ‘control’ an obviously sick sexually abusive priest despite all of the evidence that has been made so painfully obvious in so many dioceses, including KC’s own recent legal case, that bishops are woefully incapable of ‘managing’ these sick priests. IMO it further demonstrates that the clerical arrogance and the protection of Church and priest at the expense of God’s little ones that created so much of the problem in the first place is still alive and well despite the Dallas charter.

    Shame on you for being part of the problem by your attempt to defend and minimize what really happened.

  15. Louie,
    You say the police department did not determine the photos to be child pornography, but that’s not true. The “police department” was not contacted in December, just some guy in the diocese who was not acting in any official way with the”police department.” And even that guy didn’t see ANY photos. All the diocese did was DESCRIBE one of the photos. This is the simple fact: the “police department” was not shown ANY of the photos that were on Father Ratigan’s computer. When the police finally did become aware of Ratigan’s child porn collection, he was arrested — but no thanks to Bishop Finn.

  16. @ Louie Verrecchio & @ Paul

    Well we shall see. Now it’s a matter for lawyers and, of course, a matter of juicy scandal for the media.

    It’s a very unfortunate situation, however, and a lesson to other Bishops, I hope, not to be wimps but to act promptly against anyone who harbors child pornography in the dioceses, especially if it’s a priest.

  17. Louis, Once the diocese actually did go to the police with all of the information they were able to get a search warrant and then charge him.
    Face it—the diocese screwed up–they are admitting they screwed up and kudos to them for saying the messed up and that they are making steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
    We all sin–the first step in correcting the sins is to admit them and not make excuses for them.
    Jack—thanks for pointing out that it’s not a new case.

  18. Wrongdoing must be brought to light and properly punished. However, if there were facts to support criminal actions I assume the Kansas City prosecutors’ office would have done so. After all, the Catholic Church is an easy target resulting in much headlines and publicity. Anyone for varied reasons, perhaps financial gain or otherwise, can sue in court. My question is why is the family suing the KC Diocese? Perhaps because there is no criminal case and the KC Diocese acted properly. I agree with Louie Verecchio’s observations. As far as Shawn Ratigan, he has been charged and the case should go forward with justice being done through the criminal court system.

  19. “However, if there were facts to support criminal actions I assume the Kansas City prosecutors’ office would have done so.”

    Ratigan was arrested less than 2 months ago. I think it’s way too early to assume there will not be further legal action against the bishop. Of course, since the computer was given back to the family and evidence allowed to be destroyed, it sounds like we really only have the bishop’s say so about what was actually on it. It will take time to investigate that. The prosecutor will know far more once the case is built against Ratigan.

    If the bishop broke any laws I hope it will result in charges. I don’t think the problem of bishops protecting abusers will stop until they become personally accountable for their actions and not just the one doling out other people’s money in civil suits.

  20. Lawyers made big money filing class action law suits. The Catholic Church is only one of the many who have fallen pray to this system. Once an organization or company is succefully sued, every lawyer wants a piece of the action. Just look at drug companies for example. There are more school teachers who abuse children far more then Catholic priests. You dont see school systems being sued because they are not seen to have the deep pockets needed for a sucessful class action suit.

    The media on the other hand only wants a good story to wet the courious appatite of the public to sell papers or increase TV ratings.

    The bottom line is that people don’t usually care about the facts. People draw conclusions based on their emotions and cultural experiences.

    Please look at the whole picture before raising your placards.

  21. This whole thing is a giant farse. It’s a case simply of the enemy attacking a good and Holy Bishop. That’s it, nothing more. It’s happened before and it will happen again. But final victory rests with Christ and that’s all that matters.

  22. It seems the KC Catholic church can’t win for losing. They certainly aren’t helping to improve the image of the RCC at all.

  23. To answer Mormor, photos of nude children are child pornography. No sex act depiction is required. If this story is accurate, the diocese is in serious legal trouble.

    Possession of child pornography is a very serious crime. Destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice are also serious crimes. This lawsuit is the least of anybody’s problem here.

    I’m shocked that Catholics are making excuses for this type of despicable conduct.

  24. Michael, you said: “It’s a case simply of the enemy attacking a good and Holy Bishop. That’s it, nothing more.” Is that something you are willing to type the next time a bishop tries to sweep a priest’s wrongdoing (in this case, very likely criminal wrongdoing) under the rug?

    Is that how you write off Bishop Finn’s negligence in not reading the detailed (four or five page) letter sent to him by the principal of the Catholic school that Shawn Rattigan served? (Remember, Bishop Finn did not read the letter until after the priest was arrested, about a year after the letter was delivered. The letter is readily available on the web. If you have not read it, you should. Just like the bishop should have.)

    If I were a bishop who wasn’t doing my utmost to protect the children in my diocese, I guess I would appreciate people rationalizing away my negligence as the ploys of the devil who wishes to oust me. As a parent, however, that mindset disturbs me a good deal.

  25. When was the last time a company was sued when one of their employees was caught accessing pornography on a company computer? I thought not.

    These sick priests don’t care about anyone but themselves and should be held completely accountable for their actions!

    I will continue to pray for the Bishop and all other good and faithful priests!

  26. Hey, Elleblue, if a manager for a company received a letter detailing suspicious pedophile behavior on the part of one of his employees and he ignored it, and if that manager had made a copy of child pornography on one of his company’s computers before returning the child pornography to the employee’s family so they could destroy the evidence, you can bet the parents of any children exploited in that pornography would sue — and rightfully so!

    Traditionalist Catholics keep getting more and more cultlike. They’re ready to circle the wagons and defend their leaders, no matter how many children’s lives are damaged and destroyed. Luckily, the traddies’ ranks are growing smaller every year, and people are leaving this sickening, superstitious, mumbo jumbo cult in droves — and taking their tithes with them.

  27. If certain commenters are really asserting the “other kids did it too” defense as a justification for this kind of misconduct, they should know it doesn’t work any better as adults than it did as kids.

    If they are claiming that somehow school districts and corporate employers are not sued for concealing sex abuse of employees then let me introduce them to this thingee I call “Google.” Just “google” “school district” and “sex abuse” and “lawsuit.”

    That will end the falsehood that school districts are not sued or that the Church is unfairly singled out.

    Catholics excusing criminal misconduct of the clergy do more damage to our faith than any gay marriage will ever do.

  28. I feel it absolutely improper for anyone to attemp to malign either the Bishop or the Church on distorted versions. Even if there is an iota of truth, then it is only the one who had actually indulged in the criminal acts has to be blamed and not the Bishop / Church. Let true facts emerge before anyone jumping into judgements .

  29. Will at least ONE US Bishop PLEASE have the guts to resign for the good of the Church over his own good?

  30. Paul:

    (Former)Vicar General Murphy is the issue in the beginnings of this story. He obviously downplayed the letter the principal sent and told Finn he’d take care of it. If Murphy had been honest about the seriousness of what the principal related in the letter – no way Finn would have said…oh just have a chat and let him go.

    Murphy – for some reason – was protecting Ratigan.

  31. diakonos09,

    With all due respect, you do not know what is in the bishops mind or what he has tried to do. Resignation is not a simple matter of his own decision, and there could be good reasons for him to stay where he is. We simply don’t know, and to attribute bad motives (selfish, egotistical) to him without knowing the truth is hardly in keeping with the service and charity suggested by your moniker.

  32. I am finished with you lot at patheos.
    The self-righteous vitriol you spewed about Fr Corapi should have convinced me to pay you no more attention, but this is the icing on the cake.

  33. Louie Verrecchio isn’t telling the truth in #3 above. He says…

    “This story (conveniently) leaves out the fact, earlier reported in the Catholic Key, that the diocese went to police IMMEDIATELY upon discovering the photos in question in December.”

    They did not “go to the police immediately”. They called an off duty police officer that has an affiliation with the diocese. They explained just one of the photos (not in enough detail) and asked if it was child pornography. The policeman (not knowing the details) said it probably wasn’t.

    Here’s a newspaper reference:

    Capt. Steve Young, a police spokesman, said diocesan officials reached out to a ranking police officer who serves on a diocesan committee.
    “They said: ‘We have a single image of a young naked
    girl on a computer, nothing sexual in nature. Is that child
    pornography?’ ” Young said.

    Read more:

    It is impossible to tell Catholic lies from the Catholic truth.

  34. I am aware that most if not all newspapers and news stations do not give the whole story and sometimes give out false information to the point of downright lies. So I have reread the article and I appreciate what Louie Verrecchio has written, if during the investigation, the Bishop has done anything wrong (which I don’t think he has) it will come out. We have to keep in mind always that our Catholic faith is always under attack from all sides and we must continue to pray for all priests and bishops, they are only human too. This priest who is now in the legal system for child pornography is right where he should be. We have to avoid harsh critisim of our faith, the rest of the world is already doing that.
    And to Grace T. I agree with you also, I have followed Fr. John Corapi and will continue to, but the horrible comments thrown at him with the decision he had to make (I would have made the same decision), I just stopped reading them…it amazed me how many people live in glass houses.

  35. Well Grace, you need to go to the SOLT website for the latest on Fr. Corapi.

    I feel sorry for anyone and especially Catholics when they loose sight of the teachings of Christ and the Church and get caught up with a personality cult. And if Fr. Corapi was at all humble he would not have shamelessly promoted himself which of course his latest behavior points to.

  36. “There are liberal Catholics fueling the fire here, not for the love of children, but for hatred of what they consider a “conservative” bishop.”


    I am a liberal Catholic, but I also know each of these three men.

    Fr Shawn and I worked together for a year–my daughter’s First Communion year–and his first out of seminary. I recall him as a friendly sort, and I saw no inappropriate behavior with kids, though he did insist on working with altar servers directly. On the other hand, I did not interact with him in our school setting. He took a lot of pictures, and a lot went to our website or the school bulletin board.

    Msgr Murphy was in residence at our parish the year after that. He struck me as an experienced pastor well aware of the foibles of people. I have no explanation on how he was taken in by the grooming of a sex addict. Keep in mind that these priest predators, like all addicts, groom a network of supporters as well as victims: parents, colleagues, and bosses.

    I’ll be the first to admit Bishop Finn was an improvement personality-wise over his predecessor. He was also inexperienced and likely in way over his head running a diocese without ever having run a parish. I can more readily see how he may have been groomed by a predator. People who are ideologically rigid are beloved of addicts–they can be manipulated so much more easily than a person wise in the ways of the world.

    Bishop Finn is labelled a holy man. I have no reason to disagree. Bishop Finn concedes he made grave errors. That is also correct. From here on out, the lawyers will muzzle anything else he wants to say.

    My concern for my friends in that diocese is that the cause of evangelization and renewal is pretty much crippled as long as the bishop stays. It won’t be just liberals–they’ve already closed their ears to the rhetoric. Ordinary moms and dads, plus kids, have reasons to be embittered against the bishop and his clergy. Leaving aside the blame game, how does anyone propose to heal that? My wife and daughter are angry about a man they viewed as their friend. How do you tell a teenager her trust was misplaced? How do you tell a mother worried that an upskirt picture of her daughter might be on someone’s computer?

  37. To Mike E. Actually you are incorrect. There have been cases where secular persons were discovered to be doing something inappropriately (like at school) but were allowed to remain working. Most abuse in the world happens by NON-clergy and most abuse NEVER gets reported because MOST victims are too afraid to report it (or don’t know how to go about it due to the trauma done to them). I am a victim of abuse myself (the offender was not a religious person, for the record) and it took me years until I was an adult to finally file a police report and deal with the pain psychologically.

    Sadly, I think Church officials have handled abuse like any other secular institution in the past. They often thought the offender would “repent” or stop after they were asked. They did not realize the scoop of the disorder. Not to mention, the issue itself is so appalling, that most did not wish to talk about it or bring it public.

    If anything good comes of the church abuse scandal, it will be awareness to abuse in general that society has ignored for centuries. So many children are abused in their own homes but SO many are not heard and the offenders continue to get away due to statue of limitation laws. Society needs to address this problem immediately given how many children are affected.

  38. “However, if there were facts to support criminal actions I assume the Kansas City prosecutors’ office would have done so.”

    The Cyber Crimes Task Force is still in the process of identifying victims and they are finding new photsos. How do I know? Because I got the phone call last night to come down and identify pictures of my daughters. Apparetnly the investigators found a bunch of files with strange extensions. Investigated further and found they were all originally .jpg images with a new set of victims. Including my kids.

    Once They have identified as many victims as they can, they have to figure out who will have jurisdiction. Some of the crimes will be federal, some will be state and some will Buchanan County. Once they determine who has the best case, they will file charges appropriatly. The number of victimjs are huge and the task force is taking it’s time buiding a case and charges against Bishop Finn and others aren’t out of the question.

    After 47 years, I am through with the RC church. Have stopped going to mass and stopped contributing and actively encourage others to do the same unitl we have a way to hold church leadership accountable.

    And yes, I will be in touch with a lawyer to discuss options.

  39. Bishop Finn, who will hopefully go to jail for his crimes in hiding this known pedophile, has appointed Todd Graves to “investigate”, which apparently makes the remaining Catholic church goers feel better.

    Of course, it just surfaced today that Todd Graves’ specialty is protecting the brand name of corporations that are in trouble, like the Catholic church, as you can see in their advertising at

    And the beat and the deceit goes on…

    Research uncovered by

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