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Names in church sex abuse records should be public, judge rules

 The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

A Superior Court judge has ruled  the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles must release the names of high-ranking church officials in 30,000 pages of confidential records about priests accused of abusing children.

In making the order Monday, Judge Emilie H. Elias reversed a key part of a 2011 ruling by a retired judge who said he feared including the names of the hierarchy could be used to embarrass the church further. Elias said the public’s right to know how the archdiocese, the largest in the nation, handled molestation allegations outweighed such concerns. She also reversed retired Judge Dickran Tevrizian’s ruling that priests who had faced only a single allegation of abuse would have their names blacked out.

“Don’t you think the public has a right to know … what was going on in their own church?” she asked a lawyer for the archdiocese, adding that parishioners “may want to talk to their adult children” about abuse alleged in their local church.

The judge and lawyers for alleged victims and the archdiocese were meeting Monday afternoon to discuss how and when the internal church records, which include psychiatric reports, reports of abuse and letters to the Vatican, will be released.

The Los Angeles Times and Associated Press filed court papers objecting to Tevrizian's ruling that all names of church employees, including Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and other top archdiocese officials, should be blacked out in the documents before they were made public. Tevrizian said he did not believe the documents should be used to "embarrass or to ridicule the church."

The news organizations argued in court filings that the redactions would "deny the public information that is necessary to fully understand the church's knowledge about the serial molestation of children by priests over a period of decades."

Contending that the secrecy was motivated by "a desire to avoid further embarrassment" for the church rather than privacy concerns, the media attorneys wrote: "That kind of self-interest is not even remotely the kind of 'overriding interest' that is needed to overcome the public's presumptive right of access, nor does it establish 'good cause' for ongoing secrecy."

An archdiocese attorney said last month that the church had spent a "great deal of effort" in redacting the files to comply with Tevrizian's order, and said the media attorneys misunderstood the legal process that both parties in the settlement agreed would be binding.

"We agree with Judge Tevrizian that enough time has passed and enough reforms have been made that it's time to get off this and move onto another subject," attorney J. Michael Hennigan said at the time.

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-- Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim

Photo: The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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