Observer, other media seek to unseal records from lawsuits against Catholic diocese

News outlets including The Charlotte Observer have filed joint court motions that seek to unseal documents in two lawsuits that claimed sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.

Both lawsuits were resolved in favor of the 46-county diocese. The media group argues that documents the diocese had asked to be sealed, as part of motions for summary judgment in the cases, are of significant public interest.

Television stations WBTV, WCNC and WSOC are also part of the group.

The lawsuits were filed by plaintiffs under assumed names: John Doe 1K and John Doe 2K in one case, and John Doe and the estate of Vincent Cook in the other. The media group, in court filings Friday, does not seek to reveal their identities.

But the news outlets say the diocese, in asking judges to seal the court papers with the plaintiffs’ approval, didn’t prove that the narrow range of circumstances in which such documents can be kept out of public view existed.

“For decades, the United States Supreme Court (and) our North Carolina appellate courts have held that in except for the most extraordinary circumstances court records should be public,” Jonathan Buchan, the lawyer representing the media group, told WBTV. “That’s why the public will have confidence in how our courts operate. Our courts have held that time and again.”

In the case of John Doe 1K and John Doe 2K, the media group’s filings say, there is no indication the parties offered evidence or arguments to support their request that the documents be sealed, the group says. John 2K does not object to unsealing the records so long as his identity and medical information is not disclosed, the court filings say.

In the second lawsuit, the group says the plaintiffs do not object to unsealing the documents as long as their identities or medical condition are not revealed. Those plaintiffs also don’t object to unsealing the records if their names and medical information isn’t revealed, the filings say.

In a statement to WBTV that was shared with the media group, the diocese said it filed documents under seal in the cases only to protect the identities of the plaintiffs.

The diocese reaffirmed its commitment to transparency, accountability and compassion for victims of sexual abuse and said it acts swiftly to report allegations against clergy. It cited the case of a retired priest, Joseph Kelleher, who the diocese suspended from ministry and notified authorities after an abuse alle...

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