The Rev. Shawn Ratigan expressed remorse for taking sexually explicit pictures of young children in his parishes, but he said on Thursday that he shouldn't get 50 years in prison.
"There's no words I can stress to tell you my sorrow, but it is there," he said. "I was good friends with all of them. I just couldn't help it."
Federal prosecutors sought a 50-year prison term for the Roman Catholic priest who admitted taking pornographic photos of children.
The judge accepted the 50-year recommendation. Evidence introduced at Thursday's sentencing indicated that Ratigan molested some of his young victims, which was a factor in the judge's sentencing.
Parents of a young girl told the judge about their pain and heartache. The girl has spoken of wanting to die, and doesn't understand why her best friend would hurt her.
Ratigan said prison is hell, and he wanted to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.
"I know God has forgiven me and my soul is in good shape. I can live at my cousin's house in Nebraska forever out in the middle of nowhere if that's what it takes," Ratigan said as he faced a judge. "Prison is hell. I know I deserve 15 years. Fifty years? I don't think so."
His attorney said he has a mental illness, and tried to argue that child pornography didn't warrant such a stringent sentence.
"Today there was no mercy for Father Ratigan," said U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson.
The 47-year-old priest pleaded guilty in August 2012 to five counts of producing or attempting to produce child porn, one count for each of the five victims.
The diocese has filed a petition with the Vatican to have Ratigan defrocked, but that request is still pending.
Ratigan was charged in May 2011 after police received a flash drive from his computer containing hundreds of images of children, most of them clothed, with the focus on their crotch areas. Ratigan apparently attempted suicide after the pictures were discovered.
Prosecutors say he photographed girls in and around churches where he worked in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. His case led to charges against Bishop Robert Finn for failing to report suspected child abuse.
Ratigan was able to have contact with children even after diocese officials learned of the investigation.
He apologized to the church for the damage he caused "to the church I loved" and the people he let down.
"I know that no words will express my sorrow, but it is there," he said.
Finn issued a statement once again expressing remorse, and said he wants to "rebuild broken trust."
"To victims of abuse, their families and the community at large, I renew my heartfelt apology and firm pledge to make our Catholic institutions second to none in the protection of children and the vulnerable," the bishop said. "Much has already been done to strengthen a culture of protection in the local church since the arrest of Shawn Ratigan."
Advocates for victims of priests have been highly critical of Finn and called for his removal. In 2012, Finn admitted to a misdemeanor of failing to report abusive priests.
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