Secrecy won’t heal a sex scandal

After four years of waiting to learn the back story of the sex-abuse scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, victims still face one obstacle — the release of thousands of pages of confidential church documents.

Victims of clergy abuse say that release of the personnel files of dead, convicted or admitted pedophile priests will reveal the truth of the hierarchy’s complicity, just as it did in Boston when a court compelled church leaders to turn over a trove of papers that showed how officials protected priests from prosecution and shuffled them from parish to parish.

Survivors of childhood abuse have long held out hope for a similar result in Los Angeles. A series of settlements totaling $710 million between the archdiocese and more than 562 victims was supposed to pave the way for a review of more than 200 priests’ files long kept secret.

Last week, however, the victims again were told to wait, this time by a court-appointed referee who said he was inclined to release some of the documents publicly, but only after redacting the names of high-ranking church officials cited in them. His decision follows a request by the archdiocese to edit out the names.


Such a move would only delay justice and raise serious doubts about the Catholic Church’s commitment to transparency and accountability in its handling of the decades-long scandal that created a worldwide controversy and eroded the church’s moral authority.

Cardinal Roger Mahony has retired as head of the archdiocese. His legacy will be mixed. He has repeatedly said he sought to remove pedophiles from jobs in which they had access to minors and that he adopted new programs to protect children, including fingerprinting and background checks on individuals who work in the church’s schools and parishes. But his public apologies and acts of contrition have done little to assuage the anger of hundreds of men and women who say the church did nothing to protect them from sexual abuse and everything to keep the truth hidden.

His successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, now has an important role to play. He can help restore some credibility to the archdiocese by allowing the release of the documents in full, including the church leaders’ names. The move would not be unprecedented. Two judges who oversaw similar settlements against the dioceses of Orange and San Diego never made broad findings that the names of the hierarchy should be redacted from documents that were released.

Such a decision by Gomez would signal that he is not interested in protecting the church over the welfare of its flock, and would go a long way toward making good on the church’s promise to help heal old wounds.