Missouri priest pleads guilty to child pornography charges

This undated file photo provided by the Clay County, Mo., Detention Center shows Rev. Shawn Francis Ratigan.

This undated file photo provided by the Clay County, Mo., Detention Center shows Rev. Shawn Francis Ratigan.  (AP/Clay County Detention Center)

A Roman Catholic priest in Kansas City pleaded guilty Thursday to producing child pornography in a federal case that also led to charges against the diocese bishop for failing to report suspected child abuse.

The Rev. Shawn Ratigan, 46, had been scheduled for trial later this month. He was charged with child pornography in May 2011 in Clay County after police received a flash drive from the priest's computer that contained hundreds of images of children, most of them clothed, with the focus on their crotch areas.

Prosecutors alleged he photographed girls, sometimes under their skirts, in and around churches where he had worked in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Under terms of the plea deal, Ratigan pleaded guilty to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempting to produce child porn. Eight other counts against Ratigan were dismissed, but sentencing guidelines suggest he'll serve a minimum of 15 years in prison.

The case opened old wounds for the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which in 2008 agreed to pay 47 clergy abuse victims a total of $10 million and promised to train its priests about sexual abuse awareness and to report any suspicions that children were being placed in danger.

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The case also led to misdemeanor criminal charges against the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn -- the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to be charged with shielding an abusive priest -- for failing to report suspected child abuse to the state. Both have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go to trial in September.

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.

After Ratigan was charged with child pornography, Finn apologized for how he had handled the situation.