KANSAS CITY, Missouri — Two new civil lawsuits were filed Tuesday in a priest misconduct case that led to the conviction of the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic Church official of a crime related to the child sexual abuse scandal.
Plaintiff's attorney Rebecca Randles said the latest suits bring the total number filed over the Rev. Shawn Ratigan's conduct to seven, with one of them tentatively settled last week for $600,000. Ratigan is incarcerated at a federal detention facility in Leavenworth, Kansas, after pleading guilty in August to producing child pornography.
The handling of Ratigan's case led Bishop Robert Finn to be convicted in September of failing to report suspected abuse because there had been a delay in notifying authorities about concerns. Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph also are named as plaintiffs in the latest lawsuits, which were filed in Jackson County Circuit Court on behalf of two unnamed Missouri girls. The suits both said "sexually explicit images" of the girls were taken and may have been distributed over the Internet.
The diocese said in a written statement that there were "inaccuracies" in the new lawsuits but stressed that it "unequivocally condemns any immoral and destructive behaviors attributed to Shawn Ratigan."
Randles said the victims in the latest lawsuits were photographed after St. Patrick School Principal Julie Hess sent a letter in May 2010 telling the diocese that several people had complained Ratigan was taking compromising pictures of young children and that he allowed them to sit on his lap and reach into his pocket for candy. It also said the mother of a young girl had found a pair of girl's panties in a planter in the backyard of Ratigan's home.
Vicar General Robert Murphy received the letter, spoke with Ratigan about setting boundaries with children, then gave a summary to Finn.
Seven months after Hess submitted the letter, a computer technician working on Ratigan's laptop found images of girls under age 12. Most were fully clothed, but one was nude, according to a probable cause statement.
The diocese said a police officer and legal counsel both said the photos on Ratigan's computer were troubling but didn't meet the standard for child pornography.
A flash drive containing the photos retrieved from Ratigan's computer wasn't turned over to police until May 2011, the same month Ratigan was arrested, after the church received reports he had violated orders from the diocese to stay away from children.
Randles said she expected that other lawsuits would be filed within the next month and said judgments tied to the Ratigan case could be among the most costly the Roman Catholic Church has faced in the priest sexual abuse scandal.
"The sad part is if they'd just done the right thing in 2010, they wouldn't have had to pay out a penny," Randles said. "The diocese had a number of times when they could have intervened to protect kids and they chose not to."