Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Catholic League: With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies?

Are Bill Donohue and the Catholic League trying to destroy the Catholic Church?  I recently posted on Bill Donohue's defense of  Father Groeshel's comments defending pedophiles.  Donohue's defense of these, at best, inane comments by Father Groeschel actually hurts the church more than it helps.  Both the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and the Archdiocese of New York did mea culpa's on behalf of these despicable comments, as well they should.  But in Donohue's eyes, it seems, a Catholic priest can do no wrong. 

Now the Catholic League has run to the defense of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City who was convicted for failing to report child pornography found on the computer of one of his diocesan priests.  The priest, Father Shawn Ratigan, had taken hundreds of pictures of the crotches of children, including one of a baby with his diaper pulled back to expose his genitals.  The pictures were found on his computer when he took it in for repair.  As the New York Times reported:
The bishop had advance warning about Father Ratigan, well before pornography was discovered on the priest’s laptop. Julie Hess, the principal of the parochial school, next door to St. Patrick Parish where Father Ratigan served, had sent a memorandum in May of 2010 to the diocese, which said:  
“Parents, staff members, and parishioners are discussing his actions and whether or not he may be a child molester. They have researched pedophilia on the Internet and took in sample articles with examples of how Father Shawn’s actions fit the profile of a child predator.”  
Children in the diocese’s schools are taught about appropriate boundaries between adults and children in an abuse-prevention education program called Circle of Grace. Ms. Hess said that while she was inclined to believe that Father Ratigan’s behavior amounted to nothing more than “boundary violations,” other adults were alarmed about specific events: Father Ratigan had put a girl on his lap on a bus trip, attempted to “friend” an eighth grader on Facebook, and had an inappropriate “peer to peer” relationship with a fifth-grade girl. On a children’s group excursion to Father Ratigan’s house, parents spotted hand towels shaped to look like dolls’ clothes, and a pair of girls’ panties in a planter in his yard.

The bishop told Father Ratigan in June 2010 that “we have to take this seriously.” But the testimony showed that the bishop, too, perceived the concerns simply as “boundary issues.”
Father Shawn Ratigan
It was shortly before Christmas in 2010 that Father Ratigan brought his computer in to be repaired by a computer technician.  The tech found the pornography, and he took the laptop to a deacon, who in turn took it to Msgr. Robert Murphy, the second in command to Bishop Finn.  Msgr. Murphy gave the laptop to Julie Creech, a technology staff member at the diocese.  According to the New York Times:
Ms. Creech found “hundreds of photographs,” according to the testimony, many taken on playgrounds, under tables or in one case, while a girl was sleeping. Many pictures did not show faces — only close-ups of crotches. Ms. Creech wrote a report for her superiors noting that only four or five of the hundreds of pictures appeared to have been downloaded from the Internet: “the rest appeared to have been taken with a personal camera.” 
As the Times tells us:
Both Bishop Finn and Monsignor Murphy, as ministers, were required by law to report suspected child abuse to the civil authorities. But they were also required to report under policies that the American bishops put in place 10 years ago at the height of the scandal — policies that now hold the force of canon law.
Further, according to the Times:
Nevertheless, even before getting the laptop, Monsignor Murphy had already consulted with a Kansas City Police Department captain who served on the diocese’s Independent Review Board. The Graves report said that the captain, Rick Smith, recalled being told by Monsignor Murphy that the diocese had found only one nude photograph, that it was of a member of Father Ratigan’s family, and that it was not a sexual pose. Monsignor Murphy said he did not remember telling the captain those things. Their recollections also differed on what the captain had said about whether the photograph constituted pornography.
Father Ratigan then attempted suicide by driving his motorcycle into a closed garage. 

Instead of directly dealing with this situation and reporting it to the proper authorities, Bishop Finn reassigned Father Ratigan and told him he must stay away from children and must not use computers.
The bishop assigned Father Ratigan to serve as a chaplain to the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Eucharist, in Independence, Mo. He placed seven restrictions on the priest, including not using computers and avoiding all contact with children. But the bishop allowed him, on a “trial” basis, to celebrate Mass for youth groups at the prayer center that the sisters ran.

Over the next five months, Father Ratigan, who is now 46 attended a sixth-grader’s birthday party, co-celebrated a child’s confirmation, communicated with children on his Facebook page, hosted an Easter egg hunt and attended a parade, the testimony recounts. Invited to dinner at the home of parishioners, he was caught taking photographs, under the table, up their daughter’s skirt, according to a federal indictment of Father Ratigan.

Neither the bishop nor any church official told church members or Father Ratigan’s large extended family — which includes many children — that the priest had been ordered to stay away from children, Darron Blankenship, a brother-in-law of Father Ratigan and a police officer who has handled child abuse cases, said in an interview on Friday.

“For somebody that was under restrictions, he had free rein,” Officer Blankenship said. “He just went and did what he wanted.”   
What was Bishop Finn's reactions when he found out that Father Ratigan was violating his rules?
Bishop Finn and Monsignor Murphy learned about some of Father Ratigan’s violations of his restrictions. “I will have to tell him,” Bishop Finn wrote in an e-mail to the psychiatrist, “that he must not attend these children’s gatherings, even if there are parents present. I had been very clear about this with him already.”
Finally, Msgr. Murphy took matters into his own hands and reported Father Ratigan to the police on May 11, 2011 when Bishop Finn was out of town.  Ratigan was arrested a week later and convicted in August of possessing child pornography.

This is all quite scandalous, and I think is very clear that Bishop Finn was guilty of trying to cover this up.  Yet it seems that Bishop Finn still didn't get it.  As the Times article tells us:
Bishop Finn and the diocese were indicted by a grand jury in October 2011. Monsignor Murphy was given immunity for cooperating with the prosecution. He testified that he turned Father Ratigan in because he had grown concerned that he was truly a pedophile. The monsignor said that when the bishop learned he had turned in Father Ratigan, “It seemed he was angry.”

After Father Ratigan was arrested, Bishop Finn met with his priests. Asked why Father Ratigan was not removed earlier, the bishop replied, according to the testimony, that he had wanted “to save Father Ratigan’s priesthood” and that he had understood that Father Ratigan’s problem was “only pornography.”
* * *
 
Father John Zuhlsdorf
And now here comes the Catholic League running to defend Bishop Finn and demonize those who told the story.  I am further upset by the fact that I saw this story on Father Zuhlsdorf's blog applauding the actions of the Catholic League in defending Bishop Finn.  The Catholic League wrote:  "we find the chorus of condemnations targeting Bishop Finn to be as unfair as they are contrived" to which Father Z commented:  "Do I hear an "Amen!"?.  No, Father Z, you do not hear an "Amen!" from me.
 
Here is the posting from The Catholic League:

ASSESSING BISHOP FINN’S GUILT
September 7, 2012 by admin
Filed under
Latest News Releases

Catholic League president Bill Donohue comments on a judge’s decision yesterday finding Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn guilty in a case involving Father Shawn Ratigan:

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 Shawn 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.

We would be remiss if we did not mention that only two newspapers in the nation put this story on the front page: the Kansas City Star, understandably, and the New York Times.
* * * 
Donohue is obviously telling the facts to fit his defense of Bishop Finn.  How can Donohue possibly say "The case did not involve child sexual abuse—no child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Shawn Ratigan. Nor did this case involve child pornography."  The pictures were definitely sexual in nature.  Of and by themselves, the pictures constitute abuse.  This would be considered a mortal sin in the Catholic Church and unless confessed, the sinner would be in danger of hell fire.  The very fact that Father Ratigan tried to kill himself shows the extent of his problem.  Bishop Finn was wrong in trying to cover up Father Ratigan's actions. 

To attack the media for reporting this story instead of looking at the real guilty parties shows that Bill Donohue and the Catholic League are no more than partisan shills.  When we are sick, we need a doctor who tells us what is wrong, not someone who smiles in our face and says everything is okay when in fact we are riddled with cancer.  As far as I'm concerned, Bill Donohue and the Catholic League have lost all credibility.

And what's up with Father Zuhlsdorf supporting Donohue?  It's interesting that there are no comments to Father Z's post on this matter.  Did no one care to comment, which is highly unusual for Father Z's readers, or maybe the comments weren't so supportive and he deleted them?

Bill Donohue and, by extension Father Zuholsdorf with his endorsement of Dononhue's comments, have given ammunition to the enemies of the Church.  Bishop Finn was wrong, pure and simple, in his actions.  He needs to be called out for what he did, and the conviction he received was right and just. Bishop Finn not only violated civil law with his cover up, he also violated the ruling of the Bishops. To defend his actions is unconscionable, and both Donohue and Father Z need to be called on it.

Hopefully Bishop Finn's conviction on covering up child abuse will cause all bishops to think twice before they try to cover up the wrong doings of priests. 

Is there anyone out there we can trust?

   

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