Open Priest Abuse Records

The Plain Dealer [Cleveland OH]
February 12, 2003

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Ma son should ask Common Pleas Judge Brian Corrigan to make public the grand jury probe of 145 priests accused of sexual molestation.

The Cleveland Catholic Diocese has threatened to fight any release of the records because they contain "personal, intimate information" that normally remains secret, said diocese spokesman Robert Tayek.

But it would be wrong to allow privacy concerns to override a duty both the court and the diocese have: protecting children from sexual predators, including those whose crimes may have been excused in the past.

That job requires that the diocese review the files on accused priests over the last 50 years, a step we urged in December. These files could potentially expand the church's internal investigation, particularly in cases where Mason could not bring indictments because of the statute of limitations.

Currently, the church is reviewing the cases of 28 priests accused of sexual molestation, including 15 who are on administrative leave.

Calling for making grand jury documents public is no easy decision, even for a newspaper that aggressively advocates for open records, as this one does. But The Plain Dealer and other media have filed public records requests in this case because openness is so clearly in the public interest.

To be sure, there are innocents in all scandals, including this one. Making the records public increases the risk that several clergymen could have their reputations unfairly savaged. And it would be important to redact specifics about victims and witnesses.

Yet the grand jury's records include information vital to any effort by the diocese to keep its promise of a credible, thorough investigation of sexual abuse by priests and other church workers.

The files contain documents from the diocese, dozens of interviews with victims and witnesses, information from civil lawsuits and records from child-protection agencies.

Indeed, Bishop Anthony Pilla has expressed interest in them. After the grand jury's investigation, he wrote to the 15 men on leave, telling them he would review the grand jury records. He urged them to do the same.

But the diocese has not asked for the documents, apparently realizing that if it took a peek, others would follow.

That head-in-the-sand approach is disappointing. If the records contain evidence of evil, the church should face it squarely and honestly and work to turn it to good.

Mason should ask that the records be opened. Better yet, the diocese should beat him to it.


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