As troubling as these crimes were, what I found truly scandalous was that our local paper of record, the Kansas City Star, has not reported on this larger story. Typically, the paper has done brief one-offs on each crime and then moved on to something meatier, like, say, the latest imagined outrage by Gov. Brownback.
The reason for the silence is not hard to understand. The media and the teachers unions share an allegiance to the Democratic Party. The Star goes out of its way to protect the unions, and the unions have gone out of their way to protect the teachers, including the sexual predators.
Historically, in Missouri and elsewhere, public schools were uniquely allowed to handle their own sex cases internally. After an accusation was investigated, an attorney representing the school district would typically meet with the attorney for the accused, often paid for by the teachers union, and the two lawyers would work out an agreement.
In many cases, the agreement would allow the accused to resign with some severance pay and a letter that did not specify the reason for the departure. So common were these deals nationwide that the process became known as “passing the trash” and the participants as “mobile molesters.”
In 2011, with no help from the Star, Missouri State Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, managed to pass a bill making it more difficult to pass the trash, but as the North Kansas City cases suggest, not impossible. The media indifference has left the school children vulnerable.
At the same time, Cunningham was struggling to get her bill passed, the Star was dedicating its energies to Shawn Ratigan, a Catholic priest with the perverse habit of taking lurid photos of little girls unaware they were being photographed.
For the Star, the Ratigan scandal was tailor made. Unlike most accused priests, his pathology was heterosexual. Better still, the priest’s ultimate supervisor, Bishop Robert Finn, was described in media reports as a “theological conservative” with a record of challenging the Star’s agenda on life issues.
The Star assigned its ace project reporter, Judy Thomas, to the Ratigan story. Locally, she had a reputation for seeking dirt on pro-life institutions, Catholic and evangelical. At the first whiff of the Ratigan scandal, the Star started to run above-the-fold headlines and soon called for the bishop’s resignation. “It’s painful to believe the most vulnerable in his flock weren’t protected,” thundered a Star editorialist.
After the photos were discovered, Ratigan attempted suicide. Bishop Finn consulted with his attorneys, and they assured him that what Ratigan had done may have been perverse, but it was not criminal. When Ratigan recovered, Finn assigned him to a home for aged nuns and imposed numerous restrictions. They did not work. Ratigan was caught taking photos at a family reunion.
The Star ran at least ninety articles on the Ratigan case, creating enough hysteria to get Ratigan a fifty-year prison sentence and get Finn, a saintly man, prosecuted for failure to report Ratigan to the police immediately.
Over the years, Catholic dioceses have dramatically altered their policies for identifying, reporting and removing alleged clerical predators, but, with cover from the media, public school districts have been largely insulated from any efforts to reform union practices.
Star editors went so far as to call Bishop Finn “repulsive,” but they have yet to mention the name of the man who runs the North Kansas City School District. As I have discovered, it is not just the national media that need to be watched. No, the local media are just as bad, maybe worse.