Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Sorry" won't do in costly Catholic Church scandal

The Kansas City Star Aug. 10, 2011

“I’m sorry” works in the confessional.

It’s increasingly unlikely to absolve the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese in the eyes of the faithful.

The federal charges leveled Tuesday against the Rev. Shawn Ratigan highlight the issue among the most troubling for longstanding Catholics: Are the diocese and its leadership complicit in the alleged sexual abuse of children?

Bishop Robert Finn has remorsefully admitted that he wished he’d handled aspects of the Ratigan case differently.

But the federal charges accuse Ratigan of taking “close-up shots of the crotch area” of a 12-year-old girl’s shorts on church property on Easter Sunday after the diocese had reassigned him to a mission house of nuns to get him away from a parish school and its children.

This alleged incident was nearly a year after the diocese received a detailed report from a Northland principal outlining concerns of teachers and parents with Ratigan’s behavior. The same child’s pubic area was allegedly photographed naked by Ratigan when she was 6. She is one of five girls listed in the indictment.

The moral and emotional toll of this scandal can never be calculated, much less repaid.

But in 2008, the diocese paid out a $10 million lump settlement, divided among 47 plaintiffs. It was to settle civil suits alleging abuse by priests. At the time, the diocese said the money was largely from diocesan insurance and reserves.

Jason Berry is the author of a new book, “Render Unto Rome,” about the financial holdings of the Catholic Church, especially in light of the abuse scandal.

By the late 1980s, Berry said in an interview, many dioceses had moved to pooling money to self-insure. Insurance companies, unwilling to pay for what could be deemed criminal behavior, had begun refusing to insure churches beyond routine coverage, say for if a parishioner fell on church property.

As the abuse scandal widened, some dioceses declared bankruptcy to avoid settlements, or began selling property, sometimes to raise cash for settlements, he said.

Some people close to the cases believe the contention that a diocese would be bankrupted by settlements is untrue and that most actually have vast holdings.

The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese reportedly has postponed a capital campaign, understandable in light of the recent charges and resulting publicity.

But faithful local parishioners deserve a full accounting. People need to be assured that what they tithe isn’t eventually paying off the misdeeds of priests, or the mistakes of church hierarchy.

And that the church will not curtail its many good works, if it finds it necessary to settle more claims of abuse.

The Catholic Church has more than just public relations, moral and criminal problems. They’re also financial.

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