By Jack Smith
Catholic Key Editor
Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn released an independent investigator’s report on the diocese’ policies, procedures and actions with regard to the sexual abuse of minors on September 1. The report had been called for by Bishop Finn on June 9 as part of his five-point plan to effect concrete changes in the diocese in the wake of criticism over the mishandling of accused priest, Father Shawn Ratigan.
The investigation was conducted by the law firm of Graves Bartle Marcus and Garrett under the direction of former United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Todd P. Graves. The investigative team included attorneys, former prosecutors and former FBI officials.
The Graves team interviewed 54 witnesses and was given access to thousands of documents, as well as, diocesan email and computer systems. “Bishop Finn pledged to make all diocesan employees and records available for a complete and searching review. Diocesan employees, clergy, and counsel cooperated fully in the investigation and made a good faith effort to fulfill that pledge,” Graves said.
While the 141 page report covers the entire breadth of diocesan policies, training programs and reporting procedures over a period of several years, most of the report’s recommendations stem from diocesan mishandling of abuse claims lodged against Fathers Shawn Ratigan and Michael Tierney. “Diocesan leaders failed to follow their own policies and procedures for responding to reports,” about the two priests, the investigation found.
On June 3, 2011 the Independent Review Board determined that recent allegations against Fr. Tierney concerning decades-old misconduct were credible and he was removed as pastor of Christ the King. The IRB had considered an earlier allegation against Tierney in 2010 made by a John Doe BP and found it not credible.
“The IRB’s handling of complaints against Fr. Tierney was generally appropriate,” the Graves report found. However, the report faulted the diocese, because Vicar General Msgr. Robert Murphy had received John Doe BP’s initial complaint in 2008, but did not refer the matter to the Independent Review Board until John Doe BP filed suit in 2010. In 2008, John Doe BP refused to meet with the IRB, but the Graves report concluded that the IRB “could and should” have been notified about John Doe BP’s 2008 complaint.
“A claimant’s unwillingness to meet with the IRB (as with John Doe BP) certainly presents difficulties in determining credibility,” the Graves report said. “Nevertheless, other investigation could still be undertaken using the information reported by an unwilling reporter, and the fruits of even a very limited investigation can and should be timely provided to the IRB.”
On May 18, 2011, Father Shawn Ratigan was arrested and later charged with possession of child pornography. His arrest followed a police investigation of computers and storage media belonging to the priest. The investigation began on May 12 when the Vicar General made a formal report to police about disturbing photos found on Ratigan’s laptop in December, 2010.
“As soon as the photographs were discovered on Fr. Ratigan’s laptop, police should have been formally notified,” the Graves report said.
Following an exhaustive review of the timeline leading up to Ratigan’s eventual arrest, the Graves report concluded that the diocese “erred in relying upon the legal and psychiatric judgments of only a few select professionals instead of requesting the IRB to undertake a more broadly-conceived inquiry.” It also faulted the diocese for consolidating the gatekeeper function into a single administrative office.
The Graves report made several recommendations, a number of which have already been undertaken by the diocese, including the hiring of an Ombudsman:
• Any diocesan employee or volunteer who receives a report of current abuse involving a minor must report to the police and the Division of Family Services, whether or not he or she is a mandated reporter.
• The Ombudsman should be notified of reports of current or past sexual abuse of minors, and should also receive reports of two new categories of conduct: sexual misconduct with minors and boundary violations.
• All reports should be immediately investigated by the Ombudsman.
• The Independent Review Board should be notified of all reports so that it can make a credibility determination and recommendation to the Bishop, and certain reports will receive expedited review while the accused is placed on administrative leave.
• The diocese should take greater steps in offering victim support and in notifying the public regarding priests removed from ministry due to the credible allegations of child abuse.
The appointment of an Ombudsman was part of Bishop Finn’s Five Point Plan announced June 9.
“Engaging former U.S. Attorney Graves and his team to conduct this investigation was a decision I believed necessary to help me make the changes I promised on May 27,” said Bishop Finn.
“The Graves report affirms the decision to establish and appoint an Ombudsman,” Bishop Finn said. “Jenifer Valenti, appointed Ombudsman in late June, is an experienced prosecutor and possesses the authority as gatekeeper to receive and investigate, independently, any complaint involving the sexual abuse of minors.”
Graves concluded, “Our investigation identified shortcomings, inaction and confusing procedures, but we believe Bishop Finn and the leadership of the diocese understand the gravity of the issues and take these recommendations seriously.”
“Graves’ recommendations are comprehensive, thoughtful and detailed,” Bishop Finn said. “We understand their importance and are focusing on them so we establish clear, strong and unequivocal procedures for all diocesan personnel and volunteers that ensure the safety of our children today and into the future.”
The full text of the Graves report can be found on the diocesan website (www.diocese-kcsj.org).