D as in distortion.
Last Friday, Mollie did a superb job cataloging Bill Donohue’s shortcomings both as a crusader against anti-Catholicism (which obviously includes using the occasion of World AIDS Day to call people with HIV promiscuous) and as a surrogate for the conservative movement (giving Dick Morris a run for his money). Her conclusion was pointed: “Seriously, your excellencies and eminences: what will it take to make you rethink the wisdom of encouraging Bill Donohue to act as your public interpreter?” Wish I knew. Donohue has said lots of offensive things on a variety of topics, but his record on one subject in particular ought to give Catholic bishops considerable pause before lending him support: the sexual-abuse scandal.
Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that the clergy of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are divided on the question of whether their bishop should resign after being found guilty of one count of failing to report suspected child abuse. (A diocesan school principal warned the diocese about about Fr. Shawn Ratigan’s “inappropriate behavior with children” in May 2010; seven months later disturbing photos of little girls were found on Ratigan’s laptop; Finn didn’t restrict Ratigan until February 2011; and the police weren’t notified until May 2011.) The Times story is ugly: One priest goes on the record recommending the bishop step down. Another says his liberal colleagues are using Finn’s travails to push for a new, less conservative bishop. More than one hundred thousand people have signed an online petition urging Finn to step aside. The diocese has spent $1.4 million on legal fees. And the Times spoke with two priests who say that at a recent meeting of diocesan clergy Finn denied any wrongdoing. Yet he agreed to a set of stipulated facts that led a judge to render a guilty verdict. “I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt these events caused,” Finn told the judge at the time. And now he’s privately telling priests that he did nothing wrong?
Of course, none of that troubles Donohue. When it comes to defending Bishop Finn, Dr. D. is all in.
We’ve been over this before, so bear with me as I rehearse some of the details. After Finn was convicted, Donohue offered his magisterial shrug, claiming Ratigan’s case involved neither child abuse nor pornography. No and no. In August Ratigan pleaded guilty to federal charges of possessing and creating child pornography. In December 2010, diocesan staff found staged photos on Ratigan’s laptop. Child pornography always involves abuse — the subjects in such photos don’t pose themselves. That’s why the Vatican amended church norms to include possession of child pornography in its definition of sexual abuse.
No one is hiding those facts. If Donohue had the slightest interest in learning more about the way Finn handled this case, he might have Googled “Shawn Ratigan.” There’s been no shortage of reporting on the case. But no. He remains undeterred by facts that complicate his view of Bishop Finn as anything other than unjustly accused. And so Dr. D. is at it again, peddling the same old untruths in a brand new press release responding to the latest Times article on Finn.
Observe as Donohue tries his hand at fact-checking:
The Times says that Finn’s conviction of a misdemeanor “stemmed from his failure to report the Rev. Shawn Ratigan to the authorities after hundreds of pornographic pictures that Father Ratigan had taken of young girls were discovered on his laptop in December 2010.” That statement is factually wrong. On October 15, 2011 the Times mentioned there was “a single photo of a young girl, nude from the waist down,” and “hundreds of photographs of children” showing “upskirt images and images focused on the crotch.”
No, that statement is what’s factually wrong. Dr. D. is selectively citing that October 15 Times story. A “single photo” is mentioned. But it refers to the fact that the Vicar General Msgr. Robert Murphy described only one of Ratigan’s photos to Rick Smith, a member of the diocesan review board — and a cop — in a half-hearted attempt to figure out whether the images amounted to child pornography. This is one of Donohue’s favorite facts about this case. He can’t quit using it to distort what really happened.
Thus spake Dr. D.:
Moreover, the diocese described the “single photo” of a naked girl to a police officer who served on the diocesan sexual review board, and he said it did not constitute pornography.
False. Msgr. Murphy told the cop that the photo depicted a girl in a nonsexual pose. He asked Smith whether such a photo would amount to child pornography. The cop said he’d have to ask around the department. But he hadn’t seen the photo. Nor did he know how many others were on Ratigan’s computer. When Smith got back to Murphy, he reported the photo as described might or might not be pornographic. What’s more, months later, after Murphy had an attack of conscience and decided to come clean about the rest of the images in Ratigan’s collection, Smith was not amused. “That’s not what you told me,” the cop said, giving Murphy an ultimatum: get the laptop to the police today or I’m calling it in myself. And that’s just what he ended up doing, because it turned out that Finn had given the laptop to Ratigan’s brother, who destroyed it. (The diocese gave the police a disc containing copies of the photos.)
Watch as these facts are run through the Donohue distortion field:
So why would the Times say that “hundreds of pornographic pictures” were found two years ago this month? The record shows that it was not until after the diocese called the cops in May 2011 that porn pictures were found on Ratigan’s computer.
That is definitely not what the record shows. First, the diocese did not “call the cops.” A cop called the cops. Second, among the hundreds of disturbing photographs found on Ratigan’s computer was a series that focused on a young girl’s crotch. She was wearing only a diaper, and over the course of several photos the diaper was gradually moved to fully expose her genitals. Those images were among those first discovered in December 2010 by Julie Creech, director of information systems for the diocese. She also found evidence that Ratigan had visited websites selling spy-cams and two-way mirrors — along with the Facebook pages of several young girls. Third, only after the diocesan review-board member called the police were more photos found on a computer Ratigan used during a previous parish assignment.
Donohue wants you to believe that the “single photo” was the only really offensive thing the diocese had to go on, that a cop definitively declared it nonpornographic, and that the really terrible stuff wasn’t found until after the the diocese referred the Ratigan case to the police department. But none of that is true. The diocese did not call the police. Capt. Rick Smith, diocesan review-board-member, said the single photo might be pornographic. And in December 2010 the diocese was aware that Ratigan had dozens of potentially illegal photos on his computer. And on the same day those photos were found, Msgr. Murphy briefed Bishop Finn on the situation. (Wouldn’t you know it — neither Murphy nor Finn say they recall the details of that conversation.)
All of that is a matter of public record. The case was exhaustively examined in a study Finn commissioned — a study Donohue himself cites in his outrageous closing:
Under Bishop Finn, the review board was contacted, the authorities were notified, and an independent investigation was ordered (the Graves Report). In short, Bishop Finn deserves better. The attack on him, coming exclusively from the Catholic Left, smacks of an agenda.
Gosh, that makes it sound like Bishop Finn couldn’t have acted more responsibly. Apparently Dr. D. could not be bothered to read the report he cites. Because if he had, he’d know that nothing could be further from the truth. Bishop Finn did not bring the matter before the review board. Finn did not notify the authorities. No diocesan employee called the police. An unpaid lay member of the diocesan review board did. That is why a judge found Finn guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse. There is no conspiracy on the Catholic left to bring down a conservative bishop. This transcends ideology. Kansas City Catholics want to know what it means to have a bishop who violated both canon and civil law, and as a result could not even be hired as a parish volunteer in his own diocese.
So what is it exactly that Bill Donohue imagines Bishop Finn deserves? To be defended with falsehoods? To be left alone, while the rest of us pretend there’s nothing strange about a bishop who was convicted of the crime that drove the scandal to continue in office without so much as a peep from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? Is the suspended sentence Finn received supposed to be sufficient to restore the trust of the Catholics of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph? What about his responsibility-avoiding apology?
Does Bill Donohue seriously believe that Bishop Finn has gotten a raw deal? Finn imposed appallingly light restrictions on a priest known to possess potentially illegal images of naked little girls, and when he learned that the priest was violating those strictures, he did nothing more than scold him. And what happened during that time? Ratigan continued taking illicit photos of little girls. “The images of my daughter’s private areas that the FBI showed me, they are forever burned into my brain,” one parent wrote to Finn. “Shawn Ratigan was in my house, around my children in February , and I thought my children were completely SAFE!” The parents of those children are scandalized. Bishop Finn is on probation.
So why would any bishop stand up for a man like Bill Donohue, let alone endorse his work? What are Catholics who are still struggling to forgive the bishops for the sexual-abuse scandal supposed to think when they see some of them supporting a person who has such a difficult time telling the truth about the Finn case, a man who has asked why teenagers “allow themselves to be molested”? That the hierarchy has turned a corner on the greatest crisis ever to seize the Catholic Church in the United States? Or that some prominent bishops really do believe that Bill Donohue paints on the “canvas of the cardinal virtues”? One of which is temperance.