Judge orders church to release full priest abuse records
A trove of confidential church files detailing how the Los Angeles archdiocese dealt with priests accused of molestation must be released “as soon as possible” and include the names of Cardinal Roger Mahony and his aides, a judge ruled Thursday.
In a written order, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias gave the church a Feb. 22 deadline to turn over about 30,000 pages of internal memos, psychiatric reports, Vatican correspondence and other documents.
“Let’s just get it done,” Elias said in court Thursday.
Her order brought to a close five and a half years of legal wrangling and delays and set the stage for a raft of new and almost certainly embarrassing revelations about the church’s handling of pedophile priests. A small portion of the files were made public in a civil case last week and showed that in the 1980s Mahony and a top aide discussed methods for concealing abuse from police, including giving molesters out-of-state assignments.
The files Elias ordered released are the final piece of a landmark 2007 settlement between the archdiocese and about 500 people who said clergy abused them. As part of that $660-million settlement, the archdiocese agreed to hand over the personnel files of accused abusers. Victims said the files would provide accountability for church leaders who let pedophiles remain in the ministry; law enforcement officials said the records would be important investigative tools.
But the release was delayed for years by appeals and the painstaking process of reading and redacting 89 files, some hundreds of pages long. A private mediator in 2011 ordered the church to black out the names of victims and archdiocese employees not accused of abuse, saying he wanted to avoid “guilt by association.”
Earlier this month, at the urging of the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, Elias ordered the names restored, saying the public had a right to know what Mahony and others in charge did about abuse. The church complained about the cost of restoring the redactions and suggested to the judge earlier this week that generic cover sheets for the files listing top officials and their dates of service should suffice.
After criticism from attorneys for the victims and the media, the church abandoned that plan and its lawyers said in court Thursday “anybody in a supervisory role” would be named in the documents. Elias’ order specified that the names of the archbishop, the vicar who handled clergy abuse, bishops and the heads of Catholic treatment centers for pedophiles be included.
Attorneys for alleged victims praised the order.
“For the first time, we’ll knew who, where and when,” said lawyer Anthony De Marco. “We’ll knew who has confessed in these documents, we’ll know who facilitated them, who covered up.”
Although the church waged unsuccessful legal battles to keep many of the records secret, an attorney for the archdiocese said Thursday he was eager now for the files to become public. Lawyer J. Michael Hennigan said that after what he called an inevitable “media blitz” over the file release, he hoped the focus would shift to the church’s current well-regarded program for preventing abuse.
“You’ve written almost nothing about what has happened in the last 10 years,” he told reporters outside court. “The church is at the front edge of how to deal with these issues.”
-- Victoria Kim and Harriet Ryan
Photo: Cardinal Roger Mahony enters the Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church in 2009. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times