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KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) - A priest accused of producing child pornography was welcomed into a young victim's home and included in numerous children's activities because a bishop kept evidence related to the priest a secret, according to a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.
The suit is one in a string of lawsuits and legal actions against Father Shawn Ratigan and Bishop Robert Finn, the leader of the 134,000-member Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, alleging that Ratigan took advantage of his position as a priest to create pornographic photos of children in his parish.
The suits allege the bishop knew about the photos, and had received numerous warnings about Ratigan's behavior, but hid the information from police and families in the Diocese.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Clay County Circuit Court, parents allege they befriended Ratigan in early 2011 after he was sent by Finn to live in a convent in Independence, Missouri, and ordered to stay away from children.
Because families within the Catholic community there had not been warned about Ratigan, they invited him into their home and to parties and other activities where children were present, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit states Ratigan used a cell phone to take pictures surreptitiously while in the plaintiff's home for dinner.
And the suit alleges that during the course of an Easter egg hunt on Easter Sunday of this year, Ratigan took sexually explicit photographs of one of the children present.
Ratigan was arrested May 16 after one of Finn's subordinates called police.
Ratigan and Finn face criminal charges as well. Ratigan has been charged with multiple counts of child pornography in federal court and in Clay and Jackson counties in Kansas City. The 46-year-old priest is in jail awaiting trial next summer.
Finn was indicted by a grand jury in Jackson County last month on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report Ratigan to police. He has pleaded not guilty.
As well, Finn reached a diversion agreement Tuesday with Clay County prosecutors allowing him to escape criminal charges as long as he complies with stipulations set by prosecutors, including regular monitoring.
Finn is the highest-ranking Catholic official ever to face criminal charges in the United States in a child sexual abuse case.
Revelations that Ratigan was taking inappropriate pictures of young girls emerged last December after a church computer technician found photos on the priest's computer that became the basis for the pornography charges.
One photo showed a young girl on a bed with her panties pulled aside, exposing her genitals.
The allegations against the bishop are tied to evidence that even after Finn was made aware of the photos found on Ratigan's laptop, he did not report it to police or to the parents and children who interacted with Ratigan.
Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Jerry Norton