Responding to Clergy Abuse of Children: Not Rocket Science, Part I
What does a pastor do when he discovers that a volunteer youth minister in his church is “sexting” a 15 year old girl in the youth group? As reported in the news, “The West Seattle church's youth pastor went to police immediately after learning of the allegations against Davis, resulting in the 26-year-old’s arrest. Davis was also dismissed from his volunteer position.”
What does a pastor do when he discovers that a volunteer youth minister in his church is “sexting” a 15 year old girl in the youth group?
As reported in the news, “The West Seattle church's youth pastor went to police immediately after learning of the allegations against Davis, resulting in the 26-year-old’s arrest. Davis was also dismissed from his volunteer position.”
This is the right response.
The wrong response was what Bishop Robert Finn did in 2010: nothing.
In May 2010, Bishop Finn, Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri received a letter from the principal of the Catholic elementary school alerting him to inappropriate behavior with children by Fr. Shawn Ratigan who worked at the school. Bishop Finn didn’t read the letter. In December 2010, Fr. Ratigan took his computer in for service and the technician found pornographic photos of young girls on the hard drive. The technician reported this to church officials who told Fr. Ratigan to stay away from children. He continued to take lewd photos of girls until May 2011, when finally Monsignor Robert Murphy reported him to the police without the approval of Bishop Finn.
Bishop Finn has now been convicted of failure to report suspected child abuse; he is the first Bishop to be held accountable for shielding a pedophile priest. He received no jail time or fine; rather he was sentenced to two years of court-supervised probation.
This was only two years ago, not thirty years ago when Bishops and other church leaders argued that they didn’t know any better and eight years after the US Conference of Catholic Bishops released their policies finally addressing the sexual abuse of children by priests. And eight years after it was made abundantly clear that the first thing one should do when suspicious of child abuse is to report to law enforcement.
When Bishop Finn was asked why he hadn’t removed Fr. Ratigan earlier, he said that he had wanted to save Fr. Ratigan’s priesthood and that his problem was “only pornography.” This is either savage ignorance or intentional protection of a predator. Either way, children who could have been protected from Ratigan were instead harmed because of Bishop Finn.
Response to clergy misconduct is not rocket science. We know what to do. Most dioceses and judicatories have policies in place. But they are useless unless the people in charge use them.
Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
P.S. I am teaching FaithTrust’s Responding to Clergy Misconduct course in Nashville on October 14-16, 2012, at the Scarritt Bennett Center.
Remember that this is our leadership training for judicatory leaders who have to worry about the complaints of clergy misconduct that they receive.