Church Abuse Plaintiffs Win Access
to Priest Files
March 22, 2003, Associated Press
LOUISVILLE - Plaintiffs suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese
of Louisville have won access to church personnel files and other
documents on any priest accused of sexual abuse during the past
William McMurry, a lawyer representing most of the
plaintiffs, had subpoenaed the files as evidence of what he contended
was the archdiocese's "pattern and common scheme to wantonly
More than 200 people have pending lawsuits against
the archdiocese, alleging that it covered up cases of sexual abuse
by 27 priests and six other people associated with the church.
The judge rejected the archdiocese's argument that
an order to turn over the documents would violate First Amendment
protection of freedom of religion.
The ruling Wednesday by Jefferson County Circuit Judge
James Shake said the church does not have to turn over any documents
relating to abuse before 1954, nor does it have to provide records
on any priest who may have had a consensual, noncriminal sexual
relationship with an adult.
Shake said the church did not have to disclose amounts
it has paid to three plaintiffs who settled lawsuits out of court
against the archdiocese in January.
The files that must be turned over include the priests'
personnel records and any documents kept in a secret archive reserved
for "sensitive or scandalous" information under a church
law known as Canon 489.
McMurry said the judge's ruling is significant because
it applies to documents on any priest accused of sexual abuse, not
just the 27 priests named in suits.
"That's very important to connect the dots over
the last 50 years," he said.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Cecelia Price said she could
not comment because church officials had not had an opportunity
to review the ruling with their attorneys.
Shake turned down McMurry's request to find out how
much the archdiocese paid to settle three lawsuits in January with
plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse by the Rev. Louis E. Miller, who
is accused in dozens of suits.
Shake sided with the archdiocese and the lawyer for
those plaintiffs, Joseph L. White, saying the dollar amounts were
irrelevant and that revealing them would violate the plaintiffs'
Shake has previously ordered the archdiocese to turn
over documents regarding settlements up to last year.
Those documents indicate that the archdiocese and
individual priests paid almost $640,000 over the past 20 years to
settle 12 claims of abuse.
Shake said the church did not need to look through
documents from before 1954 in a "fruitless search for information
of only marginal relevance."