In another shameful episode of the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue apologism of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Donohue played down the crimes of a Catholic priest, who in August “pleaded guilty to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempting to produce child pornography using girls as young as 2 years old,” and the Bishop who was convicted yesterday of shielding the priest. “The case did not involve child sexual abuse—no child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Sean Ratigan,” Donohue said. “Nor did this case involve child pornography.” Following Bishop Robert Finn’s conviction, Donohue claimed that the “chorus of condemnations targeting Bishop Finn” are “as unfair as they are contrived.”
Let’s get rid of some myths. Bishop Finn was not found guilty of a felony: he was found guilty of one misdemeanor, and innocent of another. The case did not involve child sexual abuse—no child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Sean Ratigan. Nor did this case involve child pornography. Here’s what happened.
On December 16, 2010, a computer technician found crotch-shot pictures of children, fully clothed, on Ratigan’s computer; there was one that showed a girl’s genitals exposed. The next day Ratigan attempted suicide. The Vicar General, Msgr. Robert Murphy, without seeing the photos, contacted a police officer about this matter. The officer, after consulting with another cop, said a single photo of a non-sexual nature would not constitute pornography. After a few more of the same types of photos were found, an attorney rendered the same judgment: they were not pornographic.
Finn then asked a psychiatrist to evaluate Ratigan. The bishop was given the judgment of a professional: the priest was not a risk to children (he was diagnosed as suffering from depression). Finn then placed restrictions on Ratigan, which he broke. When it was found that Ratigan was again using a computer, upon examination more disturbing photos were found. Murphy then called the cops (Finn was out of town) and a week later Ratigan was arrested. Yesterday, Finn was found guilty of one misdemeanor of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse.
The Catholic League supports harsh penalties for child sexual abusers, and for those who cover it up. But it also supports equal justice for all, and given what we know of what is going on in many other communities, religious as well as secular, we find the chorus of condemnations targeting Bishop Finn to be as unfair as they are contrived.
As the New York Times reported, Father Ratigan “had taken hundreds of pornographic pictures of young girls,” including on the playground at the school which employed him and some of the photos even “show girls’ genitalia through their clothing.” The school’s principal sent the Bishop a letter noting that Ratigan “put a girl on his lap on a bus ride and encouraged children to reach into his pockets for candy, and that parents discovered girl’s underwear in a planter outside his house.”
The case began when the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a charismatic parish priest who had previously attracted attention for inappropriate behavior with children, took his laptop computer in for repairs in December 2010. A technician immediately told church officials that the laptop contained what appeared to be pornographic photographs of young girls’ genitals, naked and clothed.
Father Ratigan attempted suicide, survived and was sent for treatment. Bishop Finn reassigned him to live in a convent and ordered him stay away from children. But Father Ratigan continued to attend church events and take lewd pictures of girls for five more months, until church officials reported him in May 2011, without Bishop Finn’s approval. The bishop was found guilty on the charge relating only to that time period.
Father Ratigan pleaded guilty in August to federal child pornography charges, and is awaiting sentencing.
Ms. Peters Baker told the judge in opening arguments that Bishop Finn had been given ample warning that Father Ratigan was a danger to children. She said that the priest had even admitted to Bishop Finn that he had “a pornography problem.”
The prosecutor said: “Defendant Finn is the ultimate authority. The buck does stop with him.”
In May 2010, the principal of the Catholic elementary school where Father Ratigan was working sent a memo to the diocese raising alarm about the priest. The letter said that he had put a girl on his lap on a bus ride and encouraged children to reach into his pockets for candy, and that parents discovered girl’s underwear in a planter outside his house. Bishop Finn has said he did not read the letter until a year later.
The prosecutor said the photographs discovered on Father Ratigan’s laptop in December 2010 were “alarming photos,” among them a series taken on a playground in which the photographer moves in closer until the final shots show girls’ genitalia through their clothing. Confronted with the photographs, Father Ratigan tried to commit suicide, but survived and was briefly hospitalized.