The man who used to be my daughter’s favorite priest pleaded guilty yesterday before going to trial. One “chapter” of a gritty and dirty Kansas City book is ending. Parents are relieved that their children will not have to testify in court. The diocesan bureaucracy has dodged one long public relations nightmare, and settles itself in for another next month when Bishop Finn’s misdeameanor trial commences. And of course, civil suits against former priest, current bishop, and diocese are all in the pipeline.
The period of admitted criminal activity covers June 2005, the last month I worked with Shawn Ratigan, through 2009. He was part of a revolving door of clergy in my former parish, three pastors, four associates, and three priests-in residence in my six years. Two years–the longest any of these guys were around–is not a long time to get to know a colleague or boss, and Shawn was with us half that time. I recall him being concerned about implementing proper liturgical procedures–not unusual for a guy fresh out of seminary these days. When he and the pastor and I sat down after his arrival, we chatted about how to give him a taste of priestly service, fitting in with various parish ministries. It’s not unusual for a priest to suggest working with altar servers, which he did. It’s also not unusual for a priest to interact with kids in a parish school, which he did. My training in VIRTUS, my experience with addictions, and my training as a foster/adoptive parent have all heightened my sensitivity to inappropriate adult behavior. I found nothing creepy or unusual about a man I considered a friend. He was a camera buff, I knew. His images popped up on bulletin boards around the parish and on school and church web sites. If I ever thought about that at all, it would seem a healthy outlet.
The only way to guard against predation is to be prepared, watchful, and informed.
The predation of the antigospel, an unintended consequence of the actions of a sinful priest and a naive, possibly incompetent bishop, is a bit harder of an obstacle for us. We’ve lived with the reality of predator clergy for two generations. Post-conciliar screening of seminary candidates has done a lot, but isn’t perfect. Very unlikely that a more conservative clergy will dampen the devilish indulgence of sex addiction.
Bishops are still on the hot seat. I don’t think they realize they are the prime targets for addicts to groom allies. They are being played. Ten years after intentional cover-ups first surfaced, they’ve done very little to reform and renew. That should be a concern. Personal examen is a vital spiritual discipline. It shouldn’t get skipped as part of any serious person’s experience of ministry.