A Northland couple claims in a civil lawsuit filed Wednesday that a Catholic priest accused of possessing child pornography took surreptitious photographs of their fully-clothed daughter with his cell phone from beneath their family’s dinner table.
In the lawsuit, filed in Clay County on behalf of a minor by her parents, alleges that the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan took photographs of their 10-year-old daughter after he’d been invited to their home for dinner. The family attended St. Patrick’s School where Ratigan had served as a pastor.
According to the lawsuit, officials with the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese had been warned about Ratigan’s inappropriate behavior around children in 2006 and again in 2010 but failed to alert parents and parishioners at St. Patrick’s School and Parish.
The civil suit names Ratigan, the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn as defendants and seeks unspecified damages and other related expenses.
“More than anything else, our clients want to make sure that children are protected in the future,” said Rebecca Randles, the plaintiff’s attorney.
Diocesan officials issued a statement responding to the lawsuit: “The diocese would like to directly say to the parents of this child, “Our concern is for you, your daughter, and your family. We condemn the disturbing and destructive behaviors attributed to Shawn Ratigan.”
Church officials also said in the statement that the lawsuit contained a number of factual inaccuracies, including the previously disputed allegation that the diocese had been informed of Ratigan’s troubling behaviors as early as 2006.
On Tuesday, a Clay County grand jury indicted Ratigan on three counts of possessing child pornography. He also faces a 13-count federal indictment of possessing, producing and attempting to produce child pornography. He remains in federal custody.
Randles said church leaders told parishioners that Ratigan had an accident and was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. They were instructed to pray for Ratigan, she said.
However, state authorities had charged Ratigan in May with possession of child pornography after church officials turned over images of children they had discovered on his computer. Ratigan apologized to children, the church and his family in a suicide note he wrote in December, when he attempted to take his life after some computer images were discovered.
Parishioners were not told about the suicide attempt or that Ratigan had been reassigned, Randles said.
According to the lawsuit, Ratigan was assigned to live in the Vincentian Parish Mission Center, in Independence. While there, Ratigan communicated with the 10-year-old girl through Facebook.
Soon after, the child’s mother emailed Ratigan and asked him about his accident. Ratigan told the woman that she and her family were nice and that “many at St. Patrick’s had not been kind to him.”
The two later exchanged emails. The family invited Ratigan to spend time with them at their home. Ratigan often visited the family, although he had been told by Finn not to use a computer or a camera and to stay away from children.
“The parents felt sorry for Ratigan and invited him over for dinner as a form of Christian healing,” Randles said.
The lawsuit alleges that on many occasions, Ratigan appeared to be texting on his cell phone under the dinner table. At the time, the parents said they did not know at the time, Ratigan had taken lewd photos of young girls and had no reason to suspect that he was actually taking or attempting to take pornographic pictures of their daughter, the lawsuit said.
“They thought it was weird that he would be texting at that angle but it was not until someone told the parents that Ratigan had been accused of taking up the skirt photos that it finally hit them,” Randles said. “It wasn’t texting, that was pictures Ratigan was taking.”