LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) — A judge on Thursday ordered the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to turn over the confidential files of priests accused of child molestation without blacking out the names of top church officials who were responsible for key decisions in how to handle the sexually abusive priests.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias ordered the nation’s largest archdiocese to turn over the files to attorneys for alleged victims no later than Feb. 22.
The Associated Press said more than 30,000 pages were involved. The church insists the number of pages is closer to 12,000.
Regardless of the number, the agreement to release the documents ends a long-standing disagreement between the church and the media and victims on how the documents would be displayed.
The archdiocese had planned to black out the names of members of the church hierarchy who were responsible for the priests, and instead provide a cover sheet for each priest’s file, listing the names of top officials who handled that case. The church reversed course Wednesday after The Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times and plaintiff attorneys objected in court.
The archdiocese had also planned to black out handwritten comments on the files inked by recently retired Cardinal Roger Mahony and provide those in typewritten form instead.
A record-breaking $660 million settlement in 2007 with more than 500 alleged victims paved the way for the ultimate disclosure of the tens of thousands of pages, but the archdiocese and individual priests fought to keep them secret for more than five years. The AP and the Los Angeles Times intervened in court in January because the 4.3 million-person archdiocese intended to release the files with the names of top officials, including Mahony’s, blacked out.
A first round of 14 priest files made public in Los Angeles nearly two weeks ago showed that Mahony and other top officials maneuvered behind the scenes to shield molester priests, provide damage control for the church and keep parishioners in the dark about sexual abuse in their parishes. Those documents, released as part of an unrelated civil lawsuit, were not redacted and provided a glimpse of what could be contained in the larger release.
The files, some of them dating back decades, contain letters among top church officials, accused priests and archdiocese attorneys, complaints from parents, medical and psychological records and — in some cases — correspondence with the Vatican.
Mahony, who retired in 2011 after more than a quarter-century at the helm of the archdiocese, has publicly apologized for mistakes he made in dealing with priests who molested children.
It was unclear how quickly the archdiocese would turn the files over to plaintiff attorneys.
Similar document releases in other dioceses, including Boston, have shown top church officials shuffled molesting priests from parish to parish, failed to call police and kept parishioners in the dark about the growing scandal.