L.A. District Attorney Seeks Access to All Abuse Files
By Arthur Jones
National Catholic Reporter
March 7, 2003
Los Angeles - In what the Los Angeles Times called "the latest and potentially most important dispute in the yearlong investigation of the Catholic church [Los Angeles archdiocese] by prosecutors," in the past five weeks four archdiocesan priest-officials have testified before a grand jury.
Each priest has served as archdiocesan vicar of the clergy during Cardinal Roger Mahony's 17 years as Los Angeles archbishop.
In Ventura County, one of three counties covered by the archdiocese, the grand jury investigating clerical sexual abuse is the instrument through which the Los Angeles County district attorney is seeking access to all archdiocesan files relating to abuse.
According to the Feb. 21 Times, the archdiocese is asserting its constitutional right to withhold files containing privileged information between a bishop and a priest. Some files were handed over Feb. 22.
Archdiocesan attorney J. Michael Hennigan said it is the archdiocese's "desire to help law enforcement" but there is a limit on the state's access to private files. "They don't get to rummage freely through diocesan files. We don't understand why they need to."
Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley was quoted as saying he will continue to insist on the release of all files: "No one and no institution -- not even men of God or the archdiocese of Los Angeles -- is above the law."
Cooley said his office would continue "to utilize the tools we have at our disposal -- criminal investigations, subpoenas and the grand jury -- in an effort to shed light on this sad and disheartening scandal."
While Ventura County prosecutors are investigating "at least three former priests," Hennigan said he will oppose releasing documents affecting 17 priests suspected of abuse, arguing they are subject to attorney-client privilege and patient-therapist privilege. "We've always said we'd turn over documents that aren't privileged," but that the archdiocese will object to releasing some files in the Michael Baker case.
In 1986, Baker, an archdiocesan priest, told Mahony he had molested children (NCR, Jan. 31). Mahony sent Baker for treatment, did not report the incidents to the police, and permitted him to remain an active priest until he finally removed him following new allegations. Baker was allowed to retire in 2000.
The Times said the vicars of clergy to appear before the Ventura County grand jury were Santa Barbara Bishop Thomas J. Curry and Msgrs. Richard A. Loomis, Timothy J. Dyer and Craig A. Cox.
Arthur Jones is NCR editor at large. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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