A Bishop In The Crosshairs
This is not titled “The” Story Behind Bishop Robert Finn, because Bishop Finn’s life probably has many stories. Most of them are likely pretty mundane, but I suspect some are honorable and some are highly inspirational. Unfortunately, only one part of Bishop Finn’s life seems newsworthy to some people. The task of telling the full story of Bishop Finn’s life is up to those who know Bishop Finn or maybe even up to Bishop Finn himself. I am setting out to shed light on one very specific chapter of Bishop Finn’s life because it is clear that people want you to believe their version of this chapter and they want it to overshadow everything else. In order to write this story, I need to start with a key player in the story, who does not happen to be Bishop Finn.
The key player in the story is Fr. Shawn Ratigan. Fr. Ratigan was a priest in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. I know very little about Fr. Ratigan prior to about 2010, except the fact that he entered the seminary and was ordained a little later in life than most priests. But after his ordination in 2004, his behavior toward children slowly began to concern those around him. This included Catholic school staff, parents and some of the young children in his parish and the schools where he worked or visited.
In May, 2010, the Principal of one of the Catholic grade schools wrote a letter to the diocesan office in charge of investigating allegations of child abuse within the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. The letter detailed a number of concerns about the manner in which Fr. Ratigan was interacting with children. The Principal suggested that Fr. Ratigan was grooming children for futue abuse and called for a more strict observance of boundaries between children and Fr. Ratigan. The letter depicts a lot of behavior on the part of Fr. Ratigan that is extremely troubling, but the Principal stopped short of identifying his behavior as sexual abuse of children. Maybe this is because his behavior had apparently been fairly normal until about a year before the letter was written, or maybe it was out of the hope that Fr. Ratigan was not a predator or pedophile. Only the Principal can speak to the thoughts she was dealing with as she wrote the letter. But it appears that up until about 2009, there were either no concerns or at least no known concerns about Fr. Ratigan’s behaviors. It also appears that there was nothing in Fr. Ratigan’s past that would indicate that he was a threat to children.
Bishop Finn was the bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, and therefore, responsible for all the diocesan priests of that diocese at the time the concerns were raised in the Principal’s letter. Bishop Finn met with Fr. Ratigan about the concerns in June, 2010. Bishop Finn stressed that it was a serious matter and called for strict observance of the boundary between Fr. Ratigan and children. Oh how I wish more had been done.
Six months later (in December, 2010), a computer technician was doing some work on Fr. Ratigan’s laptop computer when he discovered a large number of “upskirt” pictures of young girls which had been stored on the computer, one of which involved nudity. Most of the photos did not show any faces, so few of the individuals who were photographed could actually be identified. The one photo which involved nudity was a photo of a naked toddler (purportedly a relative of Fr. Ratigan’s).
The technician took the computer to the main diocesan office. On the same day, diocesan officials set out to determine if any laws had been broken by Fr. Ratigan. The diocese contacted a police officer and described the pictures, including the toddler’s picture. They also delivered the laptop to an attorney and had the attorney observe the photos. Both the law enforcement officer and the attorney informed the diocese that the photos were not sexual in nature and therefore, did not constitute child pornography or any violation of law. Additionally, there were no known allegations of child abuse or sexually inappropriate conduct on the part of Fr. Ratigan at that time. With the benefit of hindsight, it is hard to understand how anyone could have failed to recognize the seriousness of the situation at that point, but we must remember that the people involved did not have the benefit of hindsight.
Diocese officials called Fr. Ratigan and set up a meeting with him which was to take place at the main diocesan office the following day. When Fr. Ratigan failed to show up for his appointment, someone checked on his house and found him unconcious on his garage floor, with his motocycle running. He had attempted suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Although his suicide attempt was unsuccessful, it did require hospitalization and some period of recovery.
Once Fr. Ratigan was physically able to receive a psychiatric evaluation, Bishop Finn required him to do so. Bishop Finn wanted to know whether or not Ratigan should be removed from ministry or if he could continue to serve as a priest in some limited capacity.
Fr. Ratigan’s psychiatric evaluation resulted in a diagnosis of depression but did not show that he fit within the clinical diagnosis of pedophilia. Therefore, after the evaluation, Fr. Ratigan was allowed to return to limited ministry. Bishop Finn assigned Ratigan as the chaplain of a religious community and placed clear restrictions on him, including a prohibition of contact with children and prohibiting his use of a computer without supervision. How Ratigan got past the psychiatric evaluation, I’ll never know. I sure do wish it would have shown him to be the danger he actually was.
In researching this matter, it seems evident that several people knew a portion of the facts surrounding Ratigan’s behavior up to this point, but there was not one person who knew the entire background as well as the law. Addtionally, those that knew the most did not learn of it all at once. Ratigan’s situation was one that was developing and revealing itself over time. People with knowledge included Bishop Finn and others within the diocese administration, local law enforcement officers at least one attorney and the psychiatrist who evaluated and began treating Ratigan. The lack of one person who possessed all the available information proved to be the biggest problem in the entire matter.
As it turned out, Fr. Ratigan’s demons were more troubling than anyone realized. It wasn’t long before Fr. Ratigan violated the restrictions placed upon him. In May, 2011, less than 6 months after Fr. Ratigan’s return to limited ministry, Monsignor Robert Murphy reported him to law enforcement in a much more insistent manner than in December, 2010. Msgr Murphy was the Administrator of the child protection response team for the diocese, so it was appropriate that he initiated the report. Law enforcement finally conducted an in-depth investigation and determined that the evidence did rise to the level of probable cause for his arrest. The subsequent investigation found CD’s and an external hard drive which contained even more photos that did meet the standard for child pornography under Missouri law. It appears that there were about 18 photos on these two sources/devices that met the Missouri standard for child pornography. Ratigan was charged and eventually pled guilty to five felony counts, including possession of child pornography and attempting to produce child pornography. It appears that the laptop images known to the diocese in December, 2010, were not part of the evidence in his convictions.
Ratigan’s sentence was just and fair. It is a very good thing that Ratigan has been permanently separated from children as there is currently no other known way to protect children from people like Ratigan. If Ratigan were not in prison, I believe he would be actively seeking ways to get back into contact with children and that his addiction to child pornography would have eventually progressed into outright molestation.
That said, it is important to note that Ratigan was never accused of physically assaulting or molesting any child. It also appears that he was convicted only for child pornography which nobody knew about prior to the diocese reporting him to law enforcement. Please note that I’m not minimizing the destructive force of pornography, I’m merely point out that as awful as child pornography is, it is not as awful as physical sex-abuse.
Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison, the diocese has paid a $1.1 million arbitration award to victims of Ratigan’s actions, has set up a counseling program for victims of sexual assault and reworked their diocesan child protection unit to make it even more thorough when concerns are raised within the diocese. Authorities charged Bishop Finn with more than one count of failure to report and he was eventually convicted of one misdemeanor count of failure to report for which he was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation.
After his sentencing, Bishop Finn publicly apologized on a number of occasions for the way he had handled the matter. He continued to serve as the bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese for several years after the Ratigan matter worked its way through the courts. This clearly angers many critics of the Church who seemed disinterested in things like justice (and facts) and more interested in revenge. Bishop Finn eventually tendered his resignation and in the spring of 2015, Pope Francis accepted it and appointed a temporary administrator, eventually appointing Bishop James Johnson as the new Bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. By resigning, Bishop Finn relinquished all of his authority within the Catholic Church. While he can still administer all of the sacraments and participate in the full spiritual life of the Church, he is no longer able to make any decisions that will impact any other person in the Catholic Church.
It is a good thing that Ratigan has been locked up for 50 years. If he serves his entire sentence, which he should, he will be in his late 90’s by the time he can be released. By then he should no longer pose a threat to children. It seems the critics are done with their crusade against Shawn Ratigan, but they are not done with their crusade against Bishop Finn or the Catholic Church.
Bishop Finn is now known as the highest ranking official in the American Catholic Church to have been convicted of a crime related to a scandal such as this. As you can imagine, this sets him up as an easy target for those who wish to attack the Church, especially after the awful sex-abuse scandal of the 60’s & 70’s. A lot of people think they know what happened, but when pressed, most eventually admit that they really don’t know much, if anything, about the actual facts behind the Ratigan matter. However, now that you have read this far, you actually do know what happened and you know that Bishop Finn is not a pedophile, nor is he someone who covered up the sexual assault of a child or transferred a predator priest in order to pass the problem on to some other parish or diocese.
While many of Bishop Finn’s critics are criticizing him due to the fact that they simply have not taken the time to learn the facts, some have the above facts available to them and choose to make inaccurate allegations about him anyway. We must be patient with those who misrepresent things out of plain ignorance, but when a person knows the facts and distorts them or when a person goes to lengths to ignore and avoid facts in order to intentionally remain ignorant and continues to speak from misinformation, it is inexcusable. Such people are not interested in justice. Nor are they interested in helping victims or prevening future harms. They are interested in vengeance. Vengeance can come disguised as justice but it has nothing to do with justice and is totally unconcerned with the facts. As a result, vengeance rarely concerns itself with the degree of harm suffered by the victims or the culpability of those implicated in the crime.
The perpetrator has been imprisoned, our adversarial system has determined what it deems fair compensation for the victims, safeguards have been improved, a counseling program has been established, Bishop Finn has completed his probation, resigned and retired (an example has been made) and a new bishop has been installed. What else can come from this incident? Is there any penalty which has not yet been imposed? Can there be any further discipline dispensed?
Reasonable minds say that justice has been served, many say it has been an overdose of justice with regard to Bishop Finn. But since Bishop Finn’s arrival in Nebraska, his critics have continued their rhetoric and they have not stopped seeking vengeance. What would satisfy those seeking vengeance? I think those who continue to criticize Bishop Finn want to see destruction, not just the destruction of Bishop Finn (although that is part of their goal), but the destruction of the Catholic Church.
I’m writing about Bishop Finn because he now lives in Nebraska. More specifically, he’s residing with a rural religious community in Nebraska, serving as their chaplain. As chaplain, he holds no position of authority. His duties are purely spiritual and solely at the invitation of the Bishop of Lincoln and the religious community itself. This is nearly as “off the grid” as one can be.
Yet, Bishop Finn’s relocation to Nebraska has been followed closely by his critics. It seems that nothing will satisfy their thirst for vengeance, least of all, the facts. The following are some of the inaccuracies critics have recently written about Bishop Finn, along with my factual correction of those inaccuracies:
“Children were endangered, some were even hurt, because of Bishop Finn’s failure to report as required by law.”
- Actually, I believe he did report as required by law. Don’t forget that a police officer and an attorney also apparently failed to see it correctly or inquire more deeply and pursue further investigation.
- Also, there is no evidence to suggest any child was harmed in any way once Bishop Finn first learned of Ratigan’s unusual behaviors and collection of photos.
“I agree that Bishop Finn has received some punishment for his inaction in caring for children. However, I have not heard an apology from him admitting his error.”
- Actually, I would consider his punishment to be more than “some”.
- More to the point, Bishop Finn did apologize numerous times, some of which were reported in both the national and local news including the New York Times.
- On May 20, 2011, he told St. Patrick parishioners, “I deeply regret that we didn’t ask the police earlier to conduct a full investigation.”
- Later, referring to the letter from the Principal he said, “I was ashamed at the fact we had not done enough to respond to that.”
- It seems that one has to go out of their way to avoid information that shows multiple occasions on which Bishop Finn has apologized and taken full responsibility for not investigating Fr. Ratigan much more thoroughly when he first learned of concerns.
“No matter what you try to tell me, this went on for a very long time. And was known for a very long time. And nothing was done about it for a very long time.”
- Definitions of “very long time” may differ, but it appears that Fr. Ratigan’s behaviors do not predate the 2009/2010 school year.
- Also, diocesan officials reported the suspicious photos the same day the diocese was alerted.
- Based on the recommendations of an attorney, a law enforcement officer and a psychiatrist, the diocese took steps to protect children from Ratigan before deciding to report him a second time in 6 months.
- It was only after police searched Fr. Ratigan’s residence that they found photos that met the Missouri legal standard for child pornography.
“[Bishop Finn] should be sent to Club Med for pedophile priests..”
- Bishop Finn is not a pedophile, nor has he ever been accused of any inappropriate behavior with anyone.
“He willfully covered up abuse, and as such is no longer fit to represent God to anyone.”
- Ratigan was never even accused of abuse. He was a child-porn addict who was likley grooming children for future abuse, but there are no facts that indicate he ever abused a child.
“Bishop Finn should not be working in any ministry due to his failure to report child sexual abuse. He was convicted of endangering children.”
- Again…, there was no abuse in this case and the bishop was not convicted of endangering children.
Many of the comments are an effort to draw people away from the fact that this is not a case of a pedophile who molested children, nor is it a case of an elaborate cover-up of abuse. The critics use this as a means to make it seem like the scandals of the past are still an active and ongoing problem in the Catholic Church. But just as the thoroughly-reported facts about Bishop Finn’s situation help you see the misinformation spread by his critics, facts about the protection of children in the American Catholic Church help you see the misinformation behind the attempt to claim that child endangerment is rampant within the Catholic Church.
Below are a few facts that you should know about the sex-abuse scandal that hit the front page of the papers in the 1990’s. However before I set out the following myth-dispelling facts, it is essential that you realize that I am not making excuses for criminals or immoral behavior. The priests who have harmed children have done more damage to the Catholic Church than all the heretics and persecutors since 33 A.D. All I’m doing is providing perspective so people can see the truth. Anytime a person stands up to correct common misperceptions about what actually happened in the sex-abuse scandal, anti-Catholics allege that we have an ulterior motive. They allege that we are really trying to remove guilt, marginalize victims, victimize the victims all over again, pave the way for future abuses and that we are in blatant denial. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the anti-Catholics who are in blatant denial of the truth. I know that people were seriously harmed and that the suffering is immense. If anyone (regardless of their faith) harms a child they should be punished and steps should be taken to protect that victim and all other potential victims from harm. But I also believe that one step in protecting children is to deal strictly with facts. You now know the facts about the Ratigan scandal, but here are the facts you do not know about the clergy-abuse scandal of the past:
- At its very worst, approximately 4% of American priests and deacons sexually assaulted a child between the year 1950 and 2002. (John Jay, 2011)
- Within this 4%, most were accused of molesting post-pubescent children, which means that most of the violators were not involved in pedophilia. (John Jay, 2011)
- Studies show that pedophilia occurs at the rate of approximately 4% in the general population in America.
- Pedophilia appears to be even more common in non-Catholic churches in the United States and is more common in non-religious youth settings such as public schools, youth programs such as clubs and athletic programs as well as child care facilities.
- By many accounts, 50% of the accusations of Catholic clergy sex abuse were either false or significantly exaggerated.
- The incidence of child sexual abuse has declined in both the Catholic Church and in society generally, though the rate of decline is greater in the Catholic Church in the same time period. (John Jay 2011)
- The current rate of reports of assaults on children by Catholic priests and deacons in the American Catholic Church is 0.3% to 0.6%. (Pedophiles and Priests, Jenkins, Oxford University Press, 2001. Also The 2013 Annual Report on the Implementation of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth)
- In other words, from 1950-2002, American Catholic priests offended at about the same rate as the general public, but now the rate is significantly lower than the rest of society.
- 94% of all alleged incidents of child sexual assault by a Catholic priest or deacon occurred before 1990 and 70% of clergy offenders were ordained as priests before 1970. (John Jay, 2004)
- The most recent data shows that about 4% of the American population and 4% of non-Catholic clergy are still committing sexual assault on children, including institutions that deal with youth, such as public schools, youth clubs, youth sports organizations and child care providers as we see in a recent Minnesota case, another Minnesota case, a recent Colorado case a New Mexico case these in Indianapolis, Missouri, California, another California case and a recent Tennessee case. ( See also: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children www.missingkids.com )
- Most reports of child molestation occur within private homes and the perpetrators are usually close relatives or trusted family friends.
- Children who live with a single parent that has a live-in partner are 20 times more likely to be victims of child sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents (Sedlack, et. al., 2010).
- Outside of the cases in which the child molestation took place in a private home by a family member, the next most common setting involves a school teacher and a student. (Floric, MaryLee and Matthew Broyles. 2012. Sexual Abuse. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.)
- The program developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been very effective at reducing abuse of children since it was first developed in 2002.
The lessons from all of this is:
- Don’t believe the critics of Bishop Finn. Check their statements and allegations to determine whether or not they can be verified by the abundant information publicly available.
- Secondly, do not buy the lie when anyone tries to allege that children are not safe in Catholic schools, a Catholic program or a Catholic parish.
- In truth, children are much safer in an officially Catholic sponsored program than nearly any other place in the world, but only if you as the parent or loved one does your part in remaining vigilant.
- The fact is, children have never been completely safe at any place or at any time in history. But you can bank on one thing: The America Catholic Church, through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is leading the charge when it comes to making environments as safe as possible. It does everyone a great disservice to suggest otherwise.