Local News Spotlight

KC priest expected to plead guilty in child porn case

His fight against federal charges seems to be ending, just weeks before scheduled trial.

Updated: 2012-08-02T07:01:03Z


The Kansas City Star

The Rev. Shawn Ratigan is expected to plead guilty today in the federal child pornography case that spawned criminal charges against the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph and the bishop who leads it.

Ratigan, 46, previously pleaded not guilty to 13 felony charges that federal prosecutors filed last year in Kansas City. He is scheduled for a change of plea hearing this afternoon, according to a notice posted Wednesday in online court records.

His attorney, federal public defender Robert Kuchar, declined to comment Wednesday. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office also declined to comment.

Ratigan is charged in U.S. District Court with six counts of producing child pornography, five counts of attempted production of child pornography and two counts of possession of child pornography.

The allegations involve sexually explicit photographs of children ranging in age from 2 to 12 that were taken over a six-year period beginning in 2005, according to court documents.

His trial was to begin Aug. 27. It would have drawn national attention just weeks before the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn are scheduled for trial for allegedly failing to report suspected child abuse in the Ratigan case.

Each of the child pornography production and attempted production counts against Ratigan carries a sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison. Each pornography possession charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Under federal court procedures, defendants can receive some reduction in their potential sentence if they plead guilty instead of going to trial.

Ratigan also faces state criminal charges in Clay County.

In a statement released Wednesday, the diocese said it “expresses its profound concern for anyone who may have been harmed by Shawn Ratigan and urges prayer for all affected by his actions. The diocese is fundamentally committed to ensure that every report of sexual abuse, boundary violation or misconduct is addressed thoroughly and immediately.”

The statement noted that Finn had appointed Jenifer Valenti, a former assistant Jackson County prosecutor, as ombudsman in June 2011.

“The ombudsman receives and investigates all reports of sexual misconduct or suspicious behavior by clergy, lay employees and volunteers in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph,” the diocese said. “Valenti will release a report on the actions taken by her office during her first year of service in the August 10 issue of The Catholic Key newspaper.”

In the case pending in Clay County Circuit Court, Ratigan faces three counts of possessing child pornography. Those charges were filed in May 2011, before the federal charges.

Clay County Prosecutor Daniel L. White said there was no hearing scheduled on that case. His office was proceeding with the charges. White declined to comment further.

Ratigan’s attorney on the state charges, John P. O’Connor, declined to comment Wednesday.

According to Clay County court records, a technician fixing Ratigan’s laptop computer discovered alleged child pornography images in December 2010 and immediately notified the diocese. Church officials did not officially report the images to authorities for months.

After searching CDs and an external hard drive belonging to Ratigan, police found what they alleged were “14 different images of child pornography of a 3-4 year old female” and four other child pornography images, court documents say.

Clay County authorities alleged that Ratigan photographed several girls in and around churches where he had been assigned over the years. Ratigan served at St. Patrick parish in the Northland for about a year and a half. Prior to that, he served at St. Mary Church in St. Joseph.

Ratigan pleaded not guilty in Clay County on those allegations.

Jackson County prosecutors later filed misdemeanor charges against Finn and the diocese for failing to report the photographs immediately. State law requires clergy and others to report suspected child abuse.

Attorneys representing the diocese and Finn declined to comment on how a guilty plea by Ratigan could affect their case. That trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 24 in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Ratigan also faces four civil lawsuits — two in federal court and two in state court — involving the child pornography allegations. Those suits include claims that Ratigan took sexually explicit photographs of girls and distributed them on the Internet.

The lawsuits also name Finn and the diocese as defendants, alleging that they had been warned about Ratigan’s behavior and knew of disturbing images on his computer but failed to take immediate action.

The diocese and Finn have argued in recent court filings in two of the cases that the photographs did not constitute child pornography.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to trizzo@kcstar.com. To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to jthomas@kcstar.com. To teach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.

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