L.A. priest abuse files could be released in weeks
After five years of legal wrangling, confidential personnel files of at least 69 priests accused of sexually abusing children in the Los Angeles Archdiocese could be ordered released as early as January, a Superior Court judge said Monday.
Judge Emile Elias set a hearing for Jan. 7 to hear objections surrounding the release of what a church attorney said were five or six banker’s boxes of files relating to the archdiocese’s handling of child molestation claims, which could include internal memos, Vatican correspondence and psychiatric reports.
The public release of the files was agreed to as part of a record $660-million settlement reached in 2007 between the archdiocese and 562 people who claimed they had been molested as children by members of the clergy. Overseen by a retired judge, the process was beset by delays and faced objections raised by an attorney representing at least 30 of the priests, who contends his clients’ constitutional rights to privacy are at stake.
The retired judge, Dickran Tevrizian, also ordered that all church hierarchy names, including retired archbishop Roger Mahony's, be blacked out in the files, saying the information should not be used to embarrass the archdiocese. Attorneys for The Times on Friday filed a motion opposing the redaction of church officials’ names, contending the public has a right to know who in the hierarchy knew of molestation claims and what they did about it.
At a hearing Monday, an attorney representing abuse victims accused the church of going beyond the judge’s rulings in their redactions and withholding of files. “The archdiocese is trying to drive a truck through the exceptions judge Tevrizian is setting,” attorney Ray Boucher told Elias.
Church attorney J. Michael Hennigan said his staff complied with Tevrizian’s order “literally and expansively.” He said he wanted a “very short fuse” on the process of individual priests’ objections to the files and that the archdiocese is anxious to complete the document release, possibly by mid-January.
Elias ordered church attorneys to submit to her for review both the redacted and unredacted versions of the documents.
Donald Steier, an attorney for the priests, said he would be filing legal papers by late December objecting to the files being made public. At the hearing, Steier accused archdiocese officials of failing to defend the priests’ rights.
“They have a duty to help protect those files, and they’ve already breached that,” he said.
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Photo: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times