The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has banned a longtime parishioner from all church property for violating “safe boundaries” in his interactions with children.
The parishioner acknowledged in an interview that he had violated an agreement to stay away from children, but said he’d done nothing inappropriate.
The 70-year-old man was a parishioner at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kansas City, North — the parish of former priest Shawn Ratigan, whose child pornography scandal led to the conviction of then-Bishop Robert Finn for failing to report suspected child abuse.
“Today, I must share difficult news with you,” wrote the Rev. Robert H. Stewart, the pastor of St. Patrick’s, in a Dec. 20 letter to families of students at the school. He said the parishioner “has been asked and has agreed not to return to the parish, and not to visit any other property owned or operated by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, its parishes or schools.”
The decision, Stewart wrote, was made “following careful consideration by our parish, school and diocesan leaders, including the Office of Child and Youth Protection.”
The letter indicated that the diocese had been monitoring the man.
“In the course of (his) involvement at St. Patrick’s, concerns were raised about his interactions with children,” Stewart wrote. “The parish staff has been working with him to establish clear and appropriate boundaries, including a written agreement for safe boundaries.
“Sadly, this has proved to be ineffective.”
The letter stressed, however, that “although safe boundaries were violated, there have been no reports or allegations of criminal behavior.”
In a phone call Wednesday, the parishioner told The Star that the diocese had put him on a “safety plan” in 2009. The Star is not using his name because he has not been charged with a crime.
“They amended it back in 2013, and I was told not to do certain things there,” the man said. “They called me in on the 19th of December and said that the safety plan was being violated on numerous occasions, and recently what happened, a couple of kids came down to help me clean up, and like a dummy, I said, ‘Sure, you can help.’ I shouldn’t have done that.”
He said he had been cleaning up after a “Coffee and Theology” session that followed an 11 a.m. Mass.
“I wasn’t supposed to have any contact with kids under 21,” he said. “So somebody saw it and reported it, and that’s their responsibility, I guess.”
Diocesan spokesman Jack Smith told The Star that “we cannot discuss details about this specific case because it involves a private individual against whom there have been no allegations of abuse or criminal behavior.” He said in an email that the letter was sent “in order to promote transparency, while also allowing parents to have age-appropriate conversations with their children based upon their own known interactions with him.”
“We ask our members to contact civil authorities directly with concerns they may have about safety within the community,” Smith said. “The diocese is committed to the protection of children, youth and vulnerable adults. We cannot tolerate any behavior that compromises a safe environment.”
Smith said the diocese’s safety plans are administered at the parish and school level in consultation with the Office of Child and Youth Protection, the Catholic Schools Office and other diocesan leaders. The diocese’s Independent Review Board is informed of individual safety plans, he said.
Stewart is a member of the review board, according to the diocese’s website. Other members include former Kansas City Police Chief James Corwin and former deputy chief Cy Ritter.
Smith said the diocese could not comment on whether the parishioner’s behavior was reported to police or the Missouri child abuse hotline but added that the diocese’s ombudsman, in partnership with the Office of Child and Youth Protection, “has committed to contact authorities in each and every instance where there is a suspicion of abuse.”
Smith said the letter about the man was originally sent by email to families at St. Patrick School. A second letter, he said, was mailed to all parish families, and the issue was discussed during the weekend Mass. The diocese also is notifying other parishes about the ban, he said.
The diocese is aware of one family that has withdrawn its children from the school because of the issue, Smith said.
“We respect their decision in doing what they feel is best for their family,” he said.
The news about the diocese action angered some parents of children at St. Patrick School and victims’ rights advocates who wanted to know why the man had access to children if diocesan officials had concerns serious enough to warrant monitoring him.
“What I find troubling is that once again it is all about their standards and needs,” said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Isn’t this what has gotten them into trouble in the past? Their policies seem to trump the laws of the state. Shouldn’t an organization with their track record err on the side of caution and bring in outside professionals and turn the investigation over to them?”
The man said he’d been a member of St. Patrick’s parish since at least 1980. He’s retired, he said, and lives near the church and school.
He said he’d been a longtime volunteer at the church.
“I’m a lector,” he said. “And I was the Eucharist minister before a balance problem kind of took me away from that.”
Asking him to never step foot on church property, the man said, “is the only way to protect the children, because being who I am, when people ask for help — adults, children, whoever — my first reaction is to say yes, and help them or accept help from them.
“Basically, I treated other people’s kids like they were my kids,” he said. “And I did not have that right. I’ve accepted my punishment there. It’s severe, but God has plans.”
He said he would abide by the agreement to stay away but thinks the diocese is being overly sensitive because of the Ratigan case.
The child sexual abuse scandal erupted at St. Patrick’s after a computer technician discovered hundreds of lewd photos of young girls on Ratigan’s laptop in December 2010. A Jackson County judge later found Finn guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse to police or state child welfare authorities after the discovery of the photographs.
Finn was sentenced to two years of probation for the misdemeanor with the agreement that the charges would be expunged from his record if he completed probation without incident, which he did.
Ratigan pleaded guilty to five federal child pornography charges and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He has since been expelled from the priesthood.
Finn resigned in 2015, nearly three years after he became the most senior U.S. Roman Catholic prelate convicted of criminal charges related to the church’s child sexual abuse scandal.
The diocese said Wednesday that the community had been “deeply wounded by the actions and inactions that occurred five years ago revolving around Shawn Ratigan.”
“Work has been done and much more is still needed to recover the trust that was lost from that time,” Smith said. “Being transparent while protecting individual privacy will be a challenge but one we willingly take on in order to earn the trust back of our community.”