Former U.S. Attorney to investigate Ratigan case, abuse policies

By Jack Smith
Catholic Key Editor

KANSAS CITY – Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Todd Graves has been appointed by Bishop Robert Finn to conduct an independent investigation of all issues surrounding the case of Father Shawn Ratigan. Ratigan was charged in Clay County May 19 with possession of child pornography and the diocese has faced criticism from parishioners and press over its handling of the priest.

From 2001 to 2005, Mr. Graves served as the national co-chair of the Department of Justice Child Exploitation Working Group. As U.S. Attorney, he established state and federal task forces to investigate exploitation of children through the Internet and was instrumental in locating a Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory in Kansas City.

In a June 9 video and press release, Bishop Finn said he hoped the review will bring clarity out of the “shame, anger, and confusion” surrounding the Ratigan case.

Graves is also tasked with conducting a complete review of the diocesan Ethical Codes of Conduct and Sexual Misconduct policies, as well as diocesan procedures and training on policies related to accusations of misconduct by diocesan employees.

The investigation is estimated to take approximately 30 to 45 days, and when complete, Graves will make his report directly to the public. Bishop Finn has pledged the full cooperation of all diocesan personnel. Already, Graves’ office has interviewed a number of diocesan officials and he has sent a detailed directive to all diocesan, parish and school employees regarding the retention of records and data that may possibly be needed in the investigation.

“In addition to our ongoing and full cooperation with law enforcement, this review will help us to determine the effectiveness of diocesan policies and procedures in a very troubling situation,” Bishop Finn explained.

The appointment of Graves, review of diocesan policies and continued commitment to cooperate with law enforcement are three of the bullets in an initial five-point plan announced by Bishop Finn June 9 to deal with recent alleged sexual misconduct in the diocese.

Other points as detailed by the plan are:

Appointment of Public Liaison and Ombudsman

In the coming weeks, Bishop Finn will appoint a public liaison and ombudsman as the receiving agent and initial investigation point for any reports of misconduct by a diocesan priest, deacon, employee or program volunteer.

The public liaison and ombudsman will screen and investigate any reports on complaints made and consult with law enforcement as appropriate. The ombudsman will be available to anyone who wishes to report a concern through a confidential telephone number and email address.

“This immediate action will ensure all concerns are addressed confidentially, respectfully, promptly and appropriately,” Bishop Finn said.

Reaffirmation of Current Diocesan Policies

While awaiting recommendations for changes resulting from the independent internal investigation, Bishop Finn reaffirmed current diocesan policies that guide the response to reports of abuse. Members of the clergy and diocesan employees have been advised to review the Ethical Codes of Conduct and the policy regarding Sexual Misconduct.

As early as 1988, the diocese adopted a formal policy for responding to allegations of sexual abuse. The policy established a Diocesan Response Team to provide support for persons making complaints. The policy required full cooperation with the laws of Missouri for reporting child sexual abuse. By 1993, diocesan practice reflected growing lay involvement with the creation of an Independent Review Board.

The diocesan policies require:

  • protecting children in all church, school and program settings,
  • pending a full investigation, removing ministers and employees from service when reasonable suspicion exists,
  • counseling and pastoral support for persons making a complaint,
  • advising people making complaints of their rights to go to civil authorities or the media, and,
  • ensuring that lay professionals respond to and give advice about complaints and fitness for ministry.

In 2002, the diocese mandated multi-jurisdictional criminal background screening and safe environment training for all adults working or volunteering with children. The Protecting God’s Children program identifies the warning signs of abuse and teaches strategies for maintaining safe environments for children. By May 2011, this program had reached more than 20,500 people.

“The best way to deal with a problem is to prevent wrongdoing,” said Bishop Finn. “We believe that, when adults who interact with children increase their awareness of child sexual abuse, they form a shield that protects children,” he said.

As a companion to the adult safe environment training, the diocese implemented developmentally appropriate personal safety training for all children and youth in 2006.  Through Catholic schools and parish programs the diocese reaches some 16,000 children each year.  Circle of Grace is an ongoing part of the curricula for all Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade, and Called to Protect reaches all high school aged students.

“These are initial steps,” Bishop Finn said in his June 9 release. “Other actions are forthcoming.”

Monday
October 23, 2017
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph