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Spotlight Report

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Church told to hand over treatment data

Judge specifies no deadline on priests' records

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 8/13/2003

he Archdiocese of Boston must turn over thousands of pages of detailed psychiatric assessment and treatment records for 61 priests accused of sexually abusing children to lawyers representing alleged victims, a state Superior Court judge ruled yesterday.

The records, which span decades and come from psychiatric hospitals and treatment centers from Connecticut to New Mexico, are believed to contain detailed admissions of sexual misconduct by priests and recommendations to church officials about whether they were likely to reoffend, lawyers for alleged victims said.

The records were sought by lawyers for Gregory Ford, a Newton man who has sued the archdiocese asserting he was raped by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley while Shanley was serving at the now-defunct St. Jean's parish in Newton. Lawyers in the Ford case have charged that church officials were told by therapists and psychiatrists that Shanley and other priests were likely to abuse again, but that Cardinal Bernard F. Law and other officials routinely ignored that advice and put the priests back into active ministry.

"We expect this to be some of the most important information to be revealed to us in this case," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer for the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents the Ford family and more than 260 other people suing the archdiocese over alleged abuse. "We expect it to be critical."

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney did not specify a deadline. MacLeish said he has written a letter to attorneys for the archdiocese, demanding that the documents be turned over by tomorrow.

Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., the lead counsel for the archdiocese in the clergy sexual abuse cases, did not return telephone calls seeking comment yesterday.

Lawyers had sought records on 79 priests, but 17 priests filed objections to their release, Sweeney said in yesterday's ruling. They include the Rev. John M. Picardi, who was allowed by Archdiocese of Boston officials to return to parish work as a priest in Arizona despite his admission that he had raped a man.

Sweeney scheduled a hearing for Aug. 21 to hear the priests' arguments on why their records should be privileged. She also gave relatives of one priest who died recently, the Rev. Gerald J. Fitzgerald, additional time to hire a lawyer to represent his estate.

In May, Sweeney stated in a brief ruling that she was leaning toward ordering the archdiocese to turn over records from all 79 priests, because the archdiocese had failed to prove "in any way" the existence of a medical or psychiatric privilege that would allow church officials to keep the documents secret. However, she allowed the priests to file their own objections to release of the records.

Among the priests who did not object are the Rev. Robert Burns, who was defrocked in 1999 after allegedly molesting boys in Ohio, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, where he was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to three years in prison. The list also includes the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin, who has agreed to testify against the archdiocese in civil court as part of a plea bargain that gave him a 12-year state prison sentence on a guilty plea to three counts of child rape.

Shanley was not on the list, lawyers said, because his psychiatric records are being contested in a different proceeding.

Last week, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley made a $55 million settlement offer to 542 people who have filed legal claims against the archdiocese, including the Ford family. As a gesture of good faith, lawyers for victims have suspended almost all litigation while settlement discussions continue.

The Fords, however, have declined to participate in any group settlement and are pressing their case in court, MacLeish said.

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