Judge affirms award against Missouri diocese

KANSAS CITY (AP) — A judge has affirmed an arbitrator’s $1.1 million breach-of-contract award against the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City and St. Joseph for violating a 2008 settlement with victims of sexual abuse by priests.

In his ruling late Wednesday, Jackson County Circuit Judge Bryan Round wrote there could “be no doubt that the Diocese, through its leadership and higher-level personnel, failed in numerous respects to abide by the terms of the non-monetary commitments” of the settlement.

The breach-of-contract lawsuit was filed in 2011 by several of the plaintiffs in the 2008 case, which was resolved with a $10 million judgment and 19 specific conditions for the diocese. Among them was a requirement that any suspected abuse by priests be reported immediately to authorities.

The lawsuit accused the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn of violating the settlement through such actions as waiting nearly a year to report suspected abuse by the Rev. Shawn Ratigan and withholding evidence of possible child pornography for months.

Arbitrator Hollis Hanover ruled earlier this year that the diocese had breached five terms of the 2008 agreement. He awarded the plaintiffs $650,000 in damages and $450,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Diocese officials had sought to vacate the arbitrator’s order, arguing that he exceeded his authority and made factual errors in his findings.

In a statement Thursday, the diocese said that while it “disputes many of the arbitrator’s findings and opinions, it will continue to honor its pledge to provide a safe and protective environment to children and other vulnerable persons.”

Ratigan, whose laptop computer was found in late 2010 to contain hundreds of disturbing images of young girls, is serving 50 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to five child pornography charges.

Bishop Finn was convicted in 2012 of misdemeanor failure to report suspected child abuse and placed on two years’ probation.

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