Advocacy for alleged abuse victims brought retaliation from diocese, lawsuit claims

After a worker raised questions about a priest sexual abuse case, the Kansas City diocese disabled her email, took away her laptop and confiscated her business cards, a lawsuit claims.

That eventually made it impossible for her to do her job, forcing her to resign, the former worker claims in the lawsuit filed Friday in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Margaret Mata filed the lawsuit against the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese and Bishop Robert Finn, alleging they retaliated against her for her advocacy within the diocese on behalf of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan’s alleged victims and for promoting changes in policies to prevent future abuse.

Claiming retaliation, wrongful dismissal and invasion of privacy, Mata is asking for unspecified monetary damages.

“If I’d done nothing, if I’d never offered to help, if I didn’t care, I would still be at my job,” Mata told The Kansas City Star in an interview.

The Catholic diocese issued a statement in response to the lawsuit.

“Margaret Mata was an independent contractor writing grants for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph from November 2010 until June 2011,” the statement said. “The diocese categorically denies it ever prevented Mata from performing any work that was within the scope of her agreement as a contract worker.”

The Missouri woman was hired last November and said the job was going great until Ratigan was arrested in May on child pornography charges. Because of her background in sex offender management and advocacy for sexual abuse victims, she offered to help the diocese handle the case, according to the lawsuit.

Mata told The Star she had founded the Safe Now Project, a national child safety and protection organization, and supervised sex offenders on probation in Hunt and Brazos counties in Texas. She also had handled sex offender management problems in cities across the country and worked as a polygraph examiner specializing in sex offenders, she said.

“The diocese really could have taken a great leadership role here,” Mata said in the interview. “But instead, they’ve created an atmosphere that discourages people from challenging their policies and practices.”

According to the lawsuit, Mata initially commended the diocese’s response to Ratigan’s arrest based on a statement it had issued. But after learning more details about the case, Mata told the diocesan spokeswoman that some of the diocese’s claims contradicted what she was hearing.

The next day, Mata suggested that diocesan officials make resources available to help families affected by the Ratigan case. After that, Mata told The Star, “things changed almost overnight.”

On May 23, Mata approached Finn and offered to help address concerns after he held a meeting with staff to discuss the Ratigan case, the lawsuit says.

A few days later, the lawsuit alleges, Mata’s supervisors confiscated her business cards and relieved her of her title, saying they had erred in giving them to her because she was an independent contractor.

In early June, the lawsuit claims, the diocese reviewed Mata’s email and discovered she had served as an advocate for a relative who had been victimized. According to the lawsuit, diocesan officials then began searching for details about the case and asking whether Mata or any relatives had been abused by a priest.

When Mata’s contract was up for renewal in late June, the lawsuit alleges, the diocese proposed a new grant-writing contract. But in July, she learned that the new contract included a confidentiality clause that only one other employee had been asked to sign. Mata said the agreement would have severely affected her job performance.

Mata wrote her supervisors, saying she “faced negative consequences due to her offer of assistance in the Ratigan scandal and her role as a crime victim’s advocate,” according to the lawsuit.

On Aug. 18, Mata offered to provide information to the law firm of former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, which had been commissioned by the diocese to investigate how it had handled the Ratigan case. Mata emailed a draft of policy recommendations to the investigators. Within eight hours, the lawsuit says, Mata’s remote access to email was terminated. She was told it was because of virus update software.

The following week, Mata’s supervisor called to arrange to pick up her computer for additional virus protection, the lawsuit says. Mata said she was leaving town to attend her grandfather’s funeral, so her supervisor met her at the airport at 5:55 a.m. the next day to retrieve the computer.

When Mata returned, her email had been disabled and she could not access the information necessary to do her job, the lawsuit alleges.

By September, the lawsuit says, “it became apparent that her email accounts were being monitored while she was being denied access.”

Mata resigned.

The diocese on Friday did not address each specific allegation in Mata’s lawsuit but in its statement said that as Mata’s contract expired on June 30, “the diocese proposed a letter of renewal which included language to protect and respect the confidentiality of donor information.”

“Mata replied to the diocese in writing on July 21, that she did not intend to renew her relationship as an independent contractor researching and writing grants,” the diocese said.

“As an independent contractor, Mata was expected to comply with diocesan rules that govern use of diocesan property, computer networks, and communications by Internet and electronic means. As with any other independent contractor or diocesan employee, Mata had no reasonable expectation of privacy in her communications using those diocesan resources.”

Mata told The Star that the experience was “a nightmare.”

“Every time I attempted to help, I suffered a consequence,” she said.

However, she added, “There are remarkable, devoted people at the diocese who are doing an amazing job despite the obstacles and challenges of the abuse scandals. And I still hold out hope that the leaders will take the opportunity to implement some positive changes.”

To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to [email protected].

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