Diocese loses bid to keep abuse files sealed

Papers part of 23 suits now settled

By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / August 26, 2009

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NEW HAVEN - A justice of the US Supreme Court ruled yesterday against a Roman Catholic diocese in Connecticut, saying that thousands of documents generated by lawsuits against six priests for alleged sexual abuse cannot remain sealed.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg denied the Diocese of Bridgeport’s request to continue a ban on release of the papers until the full court decides whether to review the case.

Ralph Johnson III, a lawyer for the diocese, said church officials were considering whether to ask all nine justices to rule on the request.

The diocese said on its website yesterday that it was disappointed with Ginsburg’s decision and that it “intends to proceed with its announced determination to ask the full US Supreme Court to review the important constitutional issues that this case presents.’’

Jonathan Albano, the attorney for three newspapers that requested the documents, said the ruling compels the diocese to release them. He acknowledged the church could ask the full court to reconsider Ginsburg’s decision, however.

“At the end of the day, the diocese will be able to say they were heard before every court that was available to them,’’ Albano said.

Albano represents The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. The Hartford Courant has also asked to see the documents.

In 2006, a Waterbury Superior Court judge said the documents were subject to a presumption of public access. The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision, ruling that more than 12,000 pages from 23 lawsuits against the six priests should be unsealed.

The Connecticut high court also rejected the claim by church officials that the documents were subject to constitutional privileges, including religious privileges under the First Amendment.

The records have been under seal since the diocese settled the cases in 2001. They could provide details on how retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan handled the allegations when he was the bishop in Bridgeport, from 1988 to 2000.