Church leaders who mishandled child sex abuse allegations will be named in a 30,000-page cache of internal Archdiocese of Los Angeles records set for public release in coming weeks, a judge ruled Monday.
The decision by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias reversed a ruling by a private mediator that the names of archdiocesan employees should be redacted from the documents to avoid further embarrassment to the church and “guilt by association.”
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 the ruling of the mediator, retired federal Judge Dickran Tevrizian, that priests who had faced 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. She said parishioners who learn from the files of a priest accused of abuse in their local church “may want to talk to their adult children” about their own experiences.
The records — confidential personnel files that include psychiatric files, investigative reports, parents’ letters of complaint and Vatican correspondence — are being released as part of a 2007 settlement between the archdiocese and more than 500 victims.
Lawyers for the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press had filed court papers arguing that the names of the hierarchy were essential for the public to understand how the scandal occurred. More than 200 priests were accused of abuse stretching back decades and the church, its insurers and others paid more than $720 million to settle claims.
In court Monday, an attorney for the news outlets said that although much of the information about the abuse has been reported, the files would provide a complete picture of “how information was relayed up the chain of command.”
“What the public is entitled to know is the full story and the full story of what the archdiocese did and didn’t know,” attorney Rochelle Wilcox said.
Elias’ ruling appeared to surprise archdiocesan lawyers, who had already redacted the documents pursuant to Tevrizian’s order and said they didn’t want to incur the expense of redoing the work.
“Are you seriously reversing Judge Tevrizian,” the church’s lead attorney, J. Michael Hennigan, asked Elias. When she confirmed her ruling, Hennigan urged her to reconsider and suggested alternatively that only the name of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony be published. He said he met Sunday with Mahony, who retired as archbishop in 2011, about the files’ release.
“He is perfectly prepared to have his name included,” Hennigan said. “He is prepared to take personal responsibility for everything that’s happened since the beginning of time.”
But the judge dismissed the suggestion, noting that there were others named in the files who had supervisory roles in the assignment of priests.
The timing of the files’ release is unclear. Hennigan said church lawyers might have to revisit every page of the records to restore the names of archdiocesan officials, a process that could take months. Lawyers for the church, the alleged victims and the media are to work out procedures for the release in coming days.
Before she made her ruling, the judge heard arguments against the release of any portion of the files from a lawyer for accused priests. Donald H. Steier, who represents 19 priests, said the public dissemination of psychiatric records and other private materials was a violation of his clients’ rights. He said the records would “fan the flames” of public outrage, potentially resulting in violence against the accused, and would discourage those with pedophilic impulses from seeking help.
“A lawyer will have to advise that individual that they really don’t have the option of psychiatric intervention, because what you tell your therapist can be published in the L.A. Times or reported to the police,” he said.
A lawyer for the California Psychiatric Assn. joined him in expressing concern about the release of mental health and substance abuse records, saying it could jeopardize doctor-patient relationships.
Elias rejected their arguments, noting that appellate courts have said that when it comes to the disclosure of clergy psychiatric records, the public interest in protecting children from abuse outweighed individuals’ privacy rights.
Times staff writer Ashley Powers contributed to this report.