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Judge issues gag order on archdiocese documents

Negligence charges in Reardon case at issue

By Farah Stockman and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 4/27/2002

Judge Thomas Connolly criticized an initial ruling to release papers. (Globe Pool File Photo)

Seeking to stem the tide of public disclosure of church documents in the clergy sex abuse scandal, a Suffolk Superior Court judge yesterday imposed a confidentiality order on Archdiocese of Boston documents in a negligence case brought by a victim of convicted pedophile Christopher Reardon.

But Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Connolly also took the opportunity to criticize Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, a colleague whose pivotal decision last year led to the first public disclosure of church documents about sexually abusive priests, a ruling that was the catalyst for the Catholic Church's current crisis.

''I have been a lawyer now for 33 years, 11 1/2 as a judge,'' he said, ''and never in those 33 years in the state Superior Court, in any county, or in the federal United States District Court in Boston, have I ever seen, heard of, or participated in the filing of discovery documents in the clerk's office. It's never been done.''

Connolly's order yesterday applies to church papers handed over to Jeffrey A. Newman, an attorney for an unnamed teenage boy who is suing the Rev. Jon C. Martin and the Archdioce of Boston for allegedly failing to adequately supervise Reardon when he was a church youth worker in Middleton. Last year, Reardon pleaded guilty and was ordered to serve up to 50 years in prison for sexual crimes involving two dozen boys. Shortly after Reardon's arrest, Martin resigned his post at St. Agnes Church amidst a police investigation that turned up evidence the priest had affairs with former prison inmates.

At yesterday's hearing, attorney Timothy P. O'Neill, who is representing Martin, supported Connolly's order and echoed the judge's concern about unsealed church documents made public.

''What I do find reprehensible is the promiscuous publication of documents that inflame the public mind and have never been ruled relevant, admissible, or in any way germane to the case in question,'' O'Neill said.

O'Neill appeared to be referring to two recent news conferences held by attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents the alleged victims of several priests. After receiving the documents, MacLeish held a news conference and made presentations to air some 1,600 pages of documents about the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.

Those documents showed archdiocese officials allowed Shanley to continue working as a parish priest even though they had evidence of sexual misconduct allegations against him - and that he supported sexual relations between men and boys.

At yesterday's hearing, Newman agreed with Connolly that the allegations against Martin are different; Martin is accused of negligence in his supervision of Reardon, not sexual misconduct.

But he also vigorously defended Sweeney's decision to lift a confidential order in the civil case against former priest and convicted pedophile John Geoghan. Sweeney, acting on a motion filed by the Globe, lifted the confidentiality order in the Geoghan case.

''Your Honor took issue with the filing documents in court relating to the Geoghan matter,'' Newman told Connolly, rebutting his comments about Sweeney. ''We have a very unusual circumstance in our society in Massachusetts now, and there was an unusual need for the newspaper to come forth and request that.''

Connolly is a 1964 graduate of St. John's Seminary in Brighton, a fact he disclosed in the beginning of the Martin case to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Newman did not object to Connolly presiding over the case.

Connolly's confidentiality order applied to internal church memos discussing Martin's suitability as a priest and to some medical records. Connolly ordered the church to turn over some of them to Newman, but said Newman cannot make them public or talk about them. The judge also denied Newman access to some of Martin's psychiatric records.

''It's the first time I've been under a gag order in years,'' Newman said after the hearing. ''If we revert to a community of gag orders, confidentiality agreements, and impoundment orders, we will be setting back the clock.''

Connolly scheduled a Monday hearing on the case. The Globe and other news organizations plan to contest the order.

Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/27/2002.
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