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Catholic priest Ratigan pleads guilty once again in child porn case

Updated: 2013-10-25T21:05:12Z

By GLENN E. RICE

The Kansas City Star

The final criminal chapter in the child pornography case against a Northland Catholic priest concluded Friday when the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan pleaded guilty in Clay County Circuit Court to three counts of possessing child pornography.

Ratigan was sentenced to seven years in prison on each felony charge, with the 21-year combined sentence to run concurrent to the 50-year sentence that he recently received in federal court for producing child pornography.

“There are certain offenses that shock the conscience when the defendant takes advantage of people who are unable to defend themselves, and this is one of those situations,” Presiding Circuit Judge Larry D. Harman said when announcing the sentence in Liberty.

Earlier in the hearing, Harman asked Ratigan to explain in his own words the crimes he committed.

Ratigan simply stated, “I possessed them.”

Harman asked if Ratigan was aware that possessing child pornography was illegal.

“Yes sir,” the 48-year-old priest answered.

Ratigan took pornographic photos of children around churches and schools while working in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, authorities have said. Some of the photos were “up-skirt” images of clothed girls ages 12 and younger. At least one nude photo focused on a girl’s genitals.

When working out the plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to ask Harman to impose a sentence that Ratigan would have to serve after his federal prison term ended, Clay County Prosecutor Daniel L. White said.

“Shawn Ratigan will die in prison,” White said afterward. “I am confident he will never again abuse or exploit a child.”

A relative of Ratigan and two priests attended the hearing, but no immediate family members of the victims went.

The proceedings Friday came a little more than a month after Ratigan’s sentencing in federal court. Three weeks ago, he was transferred to the Clay County Detention Center while his attorneys negotiated the plea agreement with Clay County authorities.

The Ratigan scandal, which exploded publicly in 2011, spawned multiple civil lawsuits and led to the criminal conviction of Bishop Robert W. Finn and changes in how diocesan officials handle child sexual abuse allegations.

A Jackson County judge found Finn guilty for failing to report suspicion of child abuse after the photographs Ratigan took were discovered, making him the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic cleric convicted in the church’s decades-long child sexual abuse scandal. Finn was sentenced to two years of probation for the misdemeanor.

On the Clay County matter, Finn avoided a possible criminal misdemeanor indictment in his handling of Ratigan and agreed to enter into a diversion program. His agreement with White calls for the two to meet face-to-face each month for five years to discuss any allegations of child sex abuse levied against clergy or diocesan staff within the diocese’s Clay County facilities.

Diocesan spokesman Jack Smith declined to comment Friday on the guilty plea and sentencing.

Church officials learned of Ratigan’s criminal activities in December 2010 after a computer technician discovered disturbing images on the priest’s laptop computer. The day after the church was notified about the images, Ratigan attempted suicide. When he failed to show up at Mass, St. Patrick church officials and emergency workers went to his apartment in the 3800 block of North Forest Avenue. They found Ratigan unconscious in his closed garage with his motorcycle running.

Ratigan apologized in a suicide note. He was hospitalized for treatment and psychiatric care.

Before the photos were discovered, the principal of St. Patrick School in Kansas City, North, had alerted church officials that teachers and parents were troubled by some of Ratigan’s behavior and hands-on interactions with children but failed to take immediate action.

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.

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