Appeals Court to Hear Arguments over Secret Church Documents

Associated Press, carried in the Hartford Courant [Hartford CT]
January 8, 2003

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The state Appellate Court will hear arguments Friday in a case pitting the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport against several newspapers seeking access to secret church documents that detail sexual abuse by priests.

The Hartford Courant, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post want the documents unsealed.

"This may be information that will help the public protect itself," Ralph Elliot, The Courant's lawyer, said this week. "We don't know everything that is in the documents."

The documents include about two dozen lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by six priests beginning in the late 1960s and continuing until the early 1990s. Most of the victims were altar boys or belonged to church youth organizations.

The diocese settled the claims in March 2001 for an undisclosed sum.

Last May, Waterbury Superior Court Judge Robert F. McWeeny ordered the records unsealed. He said a 1994 order sealing the files was intended to protect the defendants' rights to fair trials, so the order expired when the lawsuits were withdrawn.

McWeeny ruled that the diocese's desire to keep the files secret was outweighed by the public's interest in the alleged abuse, "which horrors were (allegedly) covered up by the diocese."

After the diocese appealed the ruling, McWeeny issued a statement saying that Connecticut courts have "facilitated" the secrecy by sealing the files over the objections of the victims and delaying the trials.

Diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer said the church disagrees strongly with McWeeny's characterization and is asserting its rights.

"We believe it serves no healing purpose to revisit this painful subject for the victims and the families and it will disrupt the healing process," McAleer said.

Jason Tremont, a lawyer who represents about 50 people claiming to have been abused by priests in the Bridgeport diocese, supports the release of the church documents.

"We have wanted them open since the beginning," he said.

Elliot said he expects the appeals court to take three to four months to issue a decision.


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