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Release of Priest Data Barred

Times Staff Writer

A state appeals court on Thursday barred the Los Angeles Archdiocese from releasing summaries of its clergy sexual abuse files, but said nothing in the opinion would stop the church from opening the actual files to the public.

“We recognize the significant public interest in the underlying subject matter of this litigation in general and of the Archdiocese’s knowledge of its priests’ sexual conduct in particular,” Justice Laurence D. Rubin wrote in the unanimous 2nd Appellate District Court decision. “Our opinion should not be construed as prohibiting or restricting release of the underlying information used in the creation” of the summaries.

The court sided with 26 priests in saying that the summaries were prepared as part of a confidential mediation and therefore should not be made public. The church had proposed release of the summaries to facilitate settlement of more than 500 legal claims filed against the archdiocese over the alleged abuse.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has fought for 2 1/2 years against releasing the underlying files, which critics say would reveal whether he and other church officials covered up for abusive priests by moving them from parish to parish instead of reporting them to parishioners and police.

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Attorney J. Michael Hennigan, who represents the church, said he still intends to make information about accused priests public but did not offer a timeline. “I don’t call this a loss,” he said.

Raymond P. Boucher, court-appointed liaison counsel for those suing the church, said he will appeal.

The church, he said, promised to make the information public as part of the deal when entering mediation more than two years ago.

He wants the public to see them.

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“The church has a moral and legal obligation to release all of the information contained in the proffers,” Boucher said. “Anything less would be utter bad faith on the part of the archdiocese.”

The summaries acknowledge that in eight cases, church officials knew the priests had a sexual interest in minors, according to the appellate court opinion, a legal admission that would streamline the plaintiffs’ claims.

They also offer “a skeletal description of complaints concerning molestations or other sexually inappropriate behavior,” and note when priests were referred for psychological treatment, the court said.

Attorney Donald Steier, who represents the priests, urged the church to act with caution.

“I would hope the archdiocese would wait and go through a proper legal process before it does anything else,” he said.

The court said the files, including any records of sexual abuse complaints, could be made public because they existed long before the litigation and therefore were not a product of the confidential mediation.

Steier had previously objected to release of the summaries, saying it would violate his clients’ privacy rights.

The court did not rule on that objection.

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