By Michael Winter, USA TODAY
Averting trial later this month, a Roman Catholic priest in Kansas City pleaded guilty today to child pornography charges for photographing five young girls in and around churches, according to news reports from Missouri.
The girls ranged in age from 2 to 9 years old. The photography occurred between 2006 and last year.
Misdemeanor charges and civil lawsuits are also pending against Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph for failing to report child abuse.
The Rev. Shawn Ratigan, 46, pleaded guilty to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempting to produce child pornography. Eight other counts involving the girls were dropped.
He faces a maximum 30 years in federal prison for each count. Sentencing has not been scheduled.
In 2008, the Kansas City diocese agreed to pay $10 million to 47 victims of clergy abuse, said it would train priests about sexual abuse and promised to report any suspicions involving children. Missouri law requires clergy to report any suspected child abuse.
Ratigan was charged in May 2011, a year after a computer-repair technician found a photo on Ratigan's laptop of a 6-year-old with her vagina exposed, The Kansas City Times reports. The computer was turned over to "agents" for the diocese, the paper says, citing court documents.
Police later received a flash drive from Ratigan's laptop containing hundreds of images of children that focused on their genital area. Most were clothed.
Prosecutors alleged he sometimes photographed the girls under their skirts and sometimes with their vaginas exposed.
Here's how the K.C. Times sums up what happened after the photos were found:
Ratigan attempted suicide after the discovery and received medical treatment and a psychological examination. Finn subsequently stripped the priest of his duties at a Northland parish, assigned him to an Independence mission house and ordered him to have no contact with children. Diocesan officials reported Ratigan to authorities in May 2011, after he violated the restrictions Finn placed on him.
The Associated Press offers this summary of the case:
Ratigan was an acting priest whose behavior was reported to diocese officials in May 2010, seven months before hundreds of disturbing images were found on his laptop and a full year before church officials reported him to police.
Instead of reporting Ratigan to the state Division of Family Services, as required under Missouri law, Finn sent the priest out of state for a psychological examination then ordered him to stay at the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist, a facility in Independence, where he wouldn't be around children and could say Mass for the sisters.
Finn also ordered Ratigan to avoid contact with children. Later, after the diocese received reports Ratigan had attended a St. Patrick's Day parade and a child's birthday party at the invitation of the child's parents, Finn ordered that police be given copies of the photos recovered from Ratigan's laptop.
Finn apologized for his handling of the matter after Ratigan was charged.