Saturday, June 13, 2009

Conn. diocese appeals order releasing abuse info

http://www.seattlepi.com/national/1110ap_us_church_abuse.html

Last updated June 12, 2009 2:47 p.m. PT

Conn. diocese appeals order releasing abuse info
By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport asked the Connecticut Supreme Court on Friday to reconsider a ruling that would make public thousands of pages of documents that detail alleged sexual abuse by priests.

The court's 4-1 ruling last month covers more than 12,600 pages of documents from 23 lawsuits against six priests that have been under seal since the diocese settled the cases in 2001. Most of the victims were altar boys or belonged to church youth organizations.

The records could shed light on how recently retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan handled the allegations when he was Bridgeport bishop.

The diocese, which has said it was "deeply disappointed" in the ruling, wants the full court of seven justices to hear the case.

"The decision raises significant concerns and deserves review by the full court, as opposed to a divided panel," the diocese said in its motion.

Church officials say the ruling fails to uphold the privacy and constitutional rights of all parties to lawsuits, especially when cases are sealed, and contends the disclosure of the sealed documents is barred by the religious clauses of the First Amendment.

"Our position is that the Supreme Court already carefully reviewed all the issues that have been raised by the diocese in the seven years the case has been pending," said Jonathan Albano, attorney for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.

Those papers and The Hartford Courant have been seeking the documents.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, criticized Bridgeport Bishop William Lori.

"It's obvious that Lori's terribly afraid of the church hierarchy's complicity that is revealed in these documents," Clohessy said.

Joseph McAleer, a diocese spokesman, said SNAP was misinformed. He said the victims and their attorneys had access to the documents.

A Waterbury Superior Court judge ruled in 2006 that the files should be unsealed, but the diocese appealed. The high court agreed with the trial court that the documents, which include depositions, affidavits and motions, were subject to a presumption of public access.

The state Supreme Court rejected church officials' claim that the documents were subject to constitutional privileges, including religious privileges under the First Amendment.

"Because the defendants failed to claim these privileges or rights at the time of disclosure and because the defendants voluntarily disclosed the information to its adversaries in litigation, the defendants cannot now be heard to complain that the information should not be disclosed to others," Justice Joette Katz wrote for the majority.

In his dissent, Justice William Sullivan said the newspapers should have had to prove their intervention in the case was justified by extraordinary circumstances.

Egan's deposition should be in the file, Albano said.

Egan was Bridgeport bishop from 1988 to 2000, when he was promoted to cardinal in New York. He was later criticized for failing to tell authorities about the Bridgeport abuse allegations and allowing the priests involved to continue working despite the claims.

Egan, who retired last month, has defended his handling of the cases.

The New York Archdiocese issued a statement last month saying the documents involved five priests accused of sexual misconduct prior to Egan's appointment as Bridgeport bishop. One of the priests died before Egan's appointment and the other four were sent to a top psychiatric institution for treatment and expert evaluation, according to the statement.

"They were returned to ministry only upon the written recommendation of the aforementioned institution along with the advice of experienced members of both clergy and laity," the statement said. "At the time, this was the recognized professional manner of handling cases of sexual misconduct with minors."

When new information was received about misconduct, two had their authorization to exercise ministry removed indefinitely; one, who had suffered a brain injury, was retired from ministry; and one was permitted to continue in a restricted ministry as an assistant chaplain in a home for the aged, residing in a convent of religious women, according to the statement.

In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned after church records were released detailing his role in handling sexual abuse claims.

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