High court rejects plea of church in abuse case

By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / October 6, 2009

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NEW HAVEN - The US Supreme Court refused yesterday to block the release of documents generated by lawsuits against priests in Connecticut for alleged sexual abuse.

The justices turned down a request by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport.

Several newspapers are seeking the release of more than 12,000 pages from 23 lawsuits against six priests.

The records have been under seal since the diocese settled the cases in 2001. Courts in Connecticut have ruled that the papers should be made public.

The decision ends the lengthy legal battle and could show how Cardinal Edward Egan, who recently retired as archbishop of New York, handled the cases when he was Bridgeport bishop.

It was unclear when the documents will be released.

Waterbury Superior Court clerk Philip Groth said he needs to consult a judge to determine whether a hearing is necessary before the records are released.

The Bridgeport Diocese, which had argued unsuccessfully that the documents were subject to religious privileges under the First Amendment, said it was disappointed by the decision.

“The content of the sealed documents soon to be released has already been extensively reported on,’’ the diocese said. “For more than a decade, the Catholic Church in Bridgeport has addressed the issue of clergy sexual abuse compassionately and comprehensively. For now, however, the serious threat to the First Amendment rights of all churches and the rightful privacy of all litigants remain in jeopardy. . . . This, indeed, is regrettable.’’

A telephone message was left yesterday for an attorney for the newspapers.

A Waterbury Superior Court said in 2006 that the documents were subject to a presumption of public access. The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the lower court decision.

Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, welcomed the news. “This decision sends a clear message to those who would endanger kids: Eventually, you’ll have to face the music and reveal your callousness, recklessness, and deceit,’’ Blaine said in a statement. “We hope that this ruling will deter every pedophile’s supervisor and co-workers from protecting a predator.’’

She urged Bridgeport Bishop William E. Lori to disclose how much the diocese spent in church donations on the case. Diocesan officials said no contributions from the bishop’s annual appeal were used to pay for the case.