First Things columnist criticizes Kansas City Bishop

Elizabeth Scalia, the popular First Things columnist and writer known for her blog "The Anchoress," has joined those critical of Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn for his handling of a case involving a priest arrested for possession of child pornography.

"By all accounts, Bishop Robert Finn is a very good man, but it seems he is a very good man who made a very big -- huge; astounding -- mistake," writes Scalia at the beginning of a blog post yesterday.

The mistake Scalia refers to is Finn's admission that he did not read a May 19, 2010, letter sent to his chancery by Julie Hess, principal of St. Patrick's elementary school, which warned that Fr. Shawn Ratigan, a diocesan priest, "fit the profile of a child predator."

Scalia's comments came the same day The Kansas City Star reported in a front page article that a local candidate for the deaconate had withdrawn his decision to receive holy orders because, he wrote in a letter, "I cannot promise respect or obedience that is a part of the diaconate ordination."

"To me this breakdown in the system that was put in place to protect God’s children is inexcusable," wrote Jim McConnell in a letter posted on the Kansas City, Mo. Holy Family parish web site.

Scalia continues on her blog:

The fallout from all of this will land on Finn, as it should. One one wonders if there is any way he can effectively shepherd the people of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, any longer. He has been apologizing continuously for that mistake — here is his latest, but even as he is speaking the words, a man preparing for ordination to the permanent diaconate in his diocese has decided his conscience won’t let him promise obedience to a Bishop whose judgment he cannot trust

No[t] every good person is a good leader. I don’t see how Finn, if he loves his flock, does not take the hit in order to protect them.

Ratigan was arrested May 19 on three counts of possessing child pornography. He was arraigned May 23 in Clay County court, and he pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is scheduled to appear in court again June 16.

In a statement the diocese released May 20, the diocese said that it had sent Ratigan "out of state" for psychiatric care after a suicide attempt -- emergency workers found him Dec. 17 unconscious in his closed garage with his motorcycle running.

When the priest returned to the diocese, Finn said in the letter, Ratigan was sent to a community of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist with instructions to not attend or participate in events where children were present. Finn also said the priest "did not have his computer or his camera in his possession during this period."

Records obtained by NCR indicate Ratigan accessed his Facebook account as late as March 9, and posted several status updates that day using his cell phone.
After the diocese became aware that Ratigan had attended several functions involving children, Finn said in the letter that the diocesan vicar general contacted the police again May 12.

Following an investigation, police officers found more pornographic materials of children -- including "up-skirt pictures that were covertly taken," as well as a nude photo of a minor female.

According to court documents, detectives determined May 13 that many of the images "were taken in and around the churches and schools Ratigan has been associated with."

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here