KANSAS CITY — An arbitrator severely criticized the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese while ordering it to pay a $1.1 million fine for violating a 2008 settlement of a lawsuit concerning sexual abuse by diocesan priests.
The $10 million settlement reached in 2008 included 19 requirements for the diocese, such as immediately reporting any abuse and establishing victims' advocacy programs. About three years ago, 44 of the 47 plaintiffs in that lawsuit filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit in Jackson County Court accusing the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn of violating the settlement by doing such things as failing to report for nearly a year suspected abuse by the Rev. Shawn Ratigan and withholding evidence of possible child pornography for months. It asked the court to force the diocese into arbitration to ensure it was complying with the settlement, The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday.
Ratigan pleaded guilty in 2012 to five child pornography charges and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Finn was sentenced to two years of probation for failing to report suspicions of child abuse to authorities after accusations were made against Ratigan.
In his ruling, arbitrator Hollis Hanover agreed that the diocese had violated five terms of the agreement and ordered it to pay $650,000 to the plaintiffs, $450,000 to the attorneys and $5,820 for counseling of sex abuse victims. He said the plaintiffs could have sought to void the settlement and collect more damages.
"They have instead opted to seek damages for these noted breaches and to maintain the contract in force for the protection of children in the future," Hanover wrote.
The diocese said Tuesday it could not comment beyond its court motion, which argues that Hanover exceeded his authority. The diocese contends the settlement did not give an arbitrator authority to award damages beyond the $10 million and that the award should be modified or corrected because it contained "a number of factual errors, inaccuracies and unsupported inferences."
Rebecca Randles, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the award "gives us one more weapon in our arsenal to keep children from being harmed."
The order was issued March 23, and the diocese was given 90 days to decide whether to fight it, which it did when it filed the motion June 20. The legal fight will now go to Jackson County District Court.