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Judge approves $1.35 million settlement in Ratigan lawsuit

Updated: 2013-11-03T04:15:26Z

By JUDY L. THOMAS

The Kansas City Star

A judge has approved a $1.35 million settlement in a civil lawsuit involving a Kansas City priest convicted of producing child pornography.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Kenneth Garrett III approved the settlement in the lawsuit filed in 2011 by a minor girl and her parents against the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan and Bishop Robert Finn. The approval was entered in the court record last week.

The diocese reached the agreement with the plaintiffs on Oct. 2, days before the case was to go to trial. The settlement was the diocese’s third in five months involving allegations of sexual abuse by a priest and brings to more than $4 million the amount it has paid in those cases.

The diocese said in a statement that the current settlement was paid in full by insurance.

In confirming the settlement, the diocese said it “reiterates its great sorrow for the harm and grief visited upon children and their families by the actions of Shawn Ratigan.”

“We further recommit ourselves to fostering safe environments for children and promptly reporting suspicions of abuse to law enforcement,” the diocese said.

In another case, a sexual abuse lawsuit filed in 2011 against Conception Abbey and one of its priests has been settled for $125,000, according to the plaintiff’s attorney.

The lawsuit, filed in Jackson County Circuit Court by Jon David Couzens, alleges sexual abuse by the Rev. Isaac True, of Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri, and Monsignor Thomas J. O’Brien, a retired priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, beginning when Couzens was 9.

Couzens alleges in the lawsuit that True, a relative, molested him for several months in the late 1970s, and that O’Brien later sexually abused him and three other youths when they were serving as altar boys at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Independence.

The parents of one of the other boys claim he later committed suicide. They filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the diocese and O’Brien in 2011 after learning of the alleged abuse, and it was settled in July for $2.25 million.

True was the president-rector of Conception Seminary from 1973 to 1988. A diocesan spokesman said last week that True has no pastoral assignment with the diocese.

An attorney for True and Conception Abbey did not return a call for comment.

Rebecca Randles, who represents Couzens, said the lawsuit will proceed against the diocese and O’Brien.

O’Brien, 87, died last month. Randles said his death will not affect the lawsuit.

The pornography scandal involving Ratigan emerged in December 2010 after a computer technician discovered hundreds of lewd photos of young girls on the priest’s laptop. A federal grand jury indicted Ratigan on 13 counts of production, attempted production and possession of child pornography involving five girls ranging in age from 2 to 9.

Ratigan pleaded guilty to five charges and was sentenced last month to 50 years in prison. He also pleaded guilty in October in Clay County Circuit Court to three counts of possessing child pornography and was sentenced to seven years on each charge.

The civil suit settled last month alleged that Ratigan engaged a 9-year-old girl in sexually explicit conduct and that Finn allowed Ratigan continued access to children after learning of the images found on the priest’s computer.

Ratigan, Finn and the diocese have been named as defendants in six other civil lawsuits involving the priest. Three cases are pending in Jackson County and one in Clay County. A federal lawsuit was settled in May for $600,000, and a second federal lawsuit was dismissed earlier this year.

To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to jthomas@kcstar.com.

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