Shawn F. Ratigan
© The Kansas City StarShawn F. Ratigan
The Rev. Shawn Ratigan, the Catholic priest and church pastor who repeatedly used young girls to produce child pornography, was sentenced Thursday to 50 years in federal prison.

The sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner virtually ensures that Ratigan, 47, will spend the rest of his life in prison. There is no parole in the federal prison system.

Federal prosecutors portrayed Ratigan as an arrogant and reckless man who flagrantly disregarded his priestly vows, used young girls as sexual objects, and repeatedly lied to his superiors, fellow priests and police when he was found out.

"Ratigan is a danger to society because he has proven he is not amenable to supervision and is unable to control his impulses," Assistant U.S. Attorney Katharine Fincham said in a written memorandum filed before Thursday's hearing.

Before hearing his sentence, Ratigan asked the judge in front of a packed courtroom to limit his sentence to 15 years.

"I hope that you won't sentence me to a life of hell on earth," said Ratigan, who choked with emotion as he spoke. "Prison is hell, and I know I deserve 15 years. But 50 years? Come on, I don't think so."

The mother and father of one victim, who was 2 at the time that Ratigan took pictures of her, talked to the judge, too.

"I trusted Shawn," the mother said. "I had a personal relationship with him. My family went to him for confession, and all along, it should have been him confessing."

The girl's father called Ratigan a monster. "My daughter will never get her innocence back," he said.

In imposing the 50-year sentence, Fenner said, "Your conduct shows, Mr. Ratigan, that you are a chronic sexual abuser. You violated the trust of individuals to an extent that is devastating."

The fallout from what Fincham called Ratigan's "uncontrolled obsession with prepubescent girls," led to multiple civil lawsuits against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and criminal charges against its leader, Bishop Robert W. Finn.

Finn, the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic Church official convicted of criminal charges related to child sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, is serving two years of probation for failing to report suspicions against Ratigan when they first surfaced.

After Ratigan's sentencing Thursday, Finn released a lengthy written statement touting the work the diocese has done to better protect children, including immediately forwarding all reported suspicions of child abuse to authorities.

"To victims of abuse, their families and the community at large," the statement said, "I renew my heartfelt apology and firm pledge to make our Catholic institutions second to none in the protection of children and the vulnerable."

In May, the family of one of Ratigan's victims settled its civil suit with the diocese for $600,000. Others still are pending.

Church officials learned of Ratigan's criminal activities in December 2010 when a computer technician discovered disturbing images on his laptop computer. Six months elapsed before church officials notified law enforcement.

A federal grand jury indicted Ratigan in August 2011 on 13 counts of production, attempted production and possession of child pornography involving five girls ranging in age from 2 to 9. Some of those incidents occurred on or around church property.

Ratigan pleaded guilty in August 2012 to five charges - one for each of the victims. The other eight counts involving other incidents with the same victims were dismissed by prosecutors Thursday as part of an oral agreement with Ratigan and his attorney.

Even before the lurid photos were discovered, concerns about Ratigan's behavior around children had been raised. The principal of St. Patrick School in Kansas City, North, told Ratigan's superior that teachers and parents were troubled by some of Ratigan's hands-on interactions with children.

"Among the examples given were the fact that Ratigan swung a fifth-grade girl up over his head, even though she was wearing a uniform skirt," prosecutors noted in a memorandum filed before the sentencing.

When the principal tried to talk to Ratigan, she said he told her that "little children needed to be touched and hugged."

Later, when the pictures were discovered, Ratigan attempted suicide. But he assured church officials he had never had sexual contact with any children.

In their pre-sentence memorandum, prosecutors said that was not true.

Three of the counts for which he was sentenced Thursday involved him touching children while posing them for pictures, according to prosecutors.

In an incident involving a 2-year-old victim in the choir loft at St. Joseph Church in Easton, Mo., Ratigan touched the girl's buttocks. He touched the inner thigh, buttocks and labia of another 5-year-old victim who was photographed, prosecutors said.

In a third incident involving a girl who was 8 or 9 at the time, he touched her inner thigh, buttocks and labia.

"Ratigan also touched her buttocks through her clothing for the obvious purpose of obtaining more sexually explicit photos," prosecutors said in their memorandum.

In arguing for a lengthy prison sentence, prosecutors said that after the first photos were discovered, diocesean officials ordered Ratigan to have no contact with or photograph children and not use a computer.

"Within months, he was violating every one of the above restrictions," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors said that even after Finn confronted Ratigan about the violations, Ratigan used his cell phone to take non-sexual photos of prepubescent girls, including pictures of the crotch area of minor who was visiting his residence on Easter Sunday.