42 sex abuse victims sue KC Catholic diocese
Friday, October 7, 2011
KANSAS CITY (AP) — Dozens of priest sex abuse victims sued Thursday to force the Kansas City-St. Joseph Catholic Diocese to report abuse suspicions and follow other terms of a 2008 settlement.
The 12-page lawsuit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court accuses the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn of “breach of contract.” As part of a $10 million group settlement reached three years ago with 47 victims of clerical sex abuse, the diocese agreed to 19 reforms. They include reporting any suspicions children were being placed in danger.
The suit, filed by 42 of the victims, said that didn’t happen and diocese officials knew for five months about troubling photos of girls on a computer used by the Rev. Shawn Ratigan and did not formally notify authorities. Ratigan has pleaded not guilty to several child pornography charges.
Finn also has apologized repeatedly for not taking action earlier against Ratigan.
Other allegations raised in the suit include that the diocese failed to “properly and completely” implement the required training and threatened retaliation against those who made abuse reports.
Plaintiff’s attorney Rebecca Randles said the case is among the first of its kind seeking to force church officials to comply with the nonmonetary terms of a priest sex abuse settlement.
The suit asks a judge to compel the diocese and Finn to enter into arbitration with the victims to determine what sort of oversight is needed and an enforcement mechanism. The only money it seeks is for attorney fees.
The diocese said in a news release it has “put in place an unequivocal process to respond to any report of misconduct or inappropriate behavior by clergy, employees or volunteers.”
The release described how the diocese said it followed the 2008 agreement and noted that Finn announced a five-point plan in June in response to reports of child sex abuse — efforts that included hiring the Kansas City law firm of former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to conduct an investigation. The report Graves’ firm produced, which is cited in the lawsuit, found there had been well-conceived policies for dealing with sex abuse claims but the diocese hadn’t followed them.
About a dozen people, including victims and their families, stood together Thursday afternoon outside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Kansas City to raise awareness about the problem of priest sex abuse.
“I’ll keep coming and doing whatever I can because this needs to stop,” said Tony Padilla, 54, of Kansas City, one of the plaintiffs. “Because like I said, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They have people convinced they are right there next to God, but look at what they are doing.”
Barbara Dorris, of St. Louis, who is the outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the settlement was designed to protect children but the church has chosen to ignore it. She said the victims chose to come forward again “because they are worried about the safety of the children in Kansas City.”