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Judge orders records of priests accused of molestation released

A Los Angeles judge Thursday ordered the release of confidential personnel documents of Franciscan priests accused of child sexual abuse.

Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman overruled most objections by attorneys for the Roman Catholic order and the alleged molesters, who argued that many documents should remain private due to privilege and constitutional issues. The files are to be released within 21 days, but an appeal could delay matters.

The process of releasing the files was agreed to as part of a 2006 settlement, in which the order paid $28 million to 25 victims of alleged abuse. A similar document-release process is pending in cases involving the Los Angeles archdiocese. Plaintiffs’ attorney Timothy Hale said the files would show how the abuse was dealt with by the Franciscan hierarchy, and help protect children from future abuse by informing the public.

Lichtman’s order allows for the public release of psychotherapists’ records that are included in the Franciscans’ files. For most of those documents, the psychotherapist-patient privilege was waived when the information was sent to a third party, which was the Franciscans, the judge ruled. He ruled that the Franciscans did not have to turn over documents created after the case was settled, as well as some files covered by attorney-client privilege.

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An attorney for the Franciscans said the decision would affect the order’s ability to deal with alleged abusers in the future.

“This puts the Franciscans in a Catch-22,” attorney Brian Brosnahan said. “They’re expected to monitor offenders, yet the court ruled that the psychotherapist-patient privilege is lost if the psychotherapist reports back to the order about what restrictions should be put on them and what treatment they need.”

Ten current and former Franciscans were accused in lawsuits of sexual acts involving 23 males and two females from the 1950s until 1987. Most of the alleged abuse occurred at St. Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara.

One of the priests, Robert Van Handel, was convicted of child molestation and sentenced in 1994 to eight years in prison.

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victoria.kim@latimes.com


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