Superior Court Judge Emilie H. Elias reversed a private mediator and ordered the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to release 30,000 pages of internal files without blanking out the names of church officials and priests who were involved in the church's handling of sex abuse allegations or who were accused themselves. The judge acted on a request by the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press to include names when the files are released to the public under a 2007 settlement with more than 500 victims.
Lawyers for the archdiocese argued that the mediator, retired federal Judge Dickran Tevrizian, was right to allow many names to be redacted in order to spare the church from further embarrassment and to proptect those name from guiult by association with the scandal. The lead archdiocese lawyer, J. Michael Hennigan, also argued that it would be a massive, months-long job to go back and un-redact the names. But the media outlets argued that the names of the archdiocese hierarchy were essential for the public to understand how the scandal occurred, the Times story says. Elias agreed that the files should not be redacted before going public, even though they contain psychiatric and personnel records.
"Don't you think the public has a right to know … what was going on in their own church," she asked a lawyer for the archdiocese. She said parishioners who learn from the files of a priest accused of abuse in their local church "may want to talk to their adult children" about their own experiences.
Before she made her ruling, the judge heard arguments against the release of any portion of the files from a lawyer for accused priests. Donald H. Steier, who represents 19 priests, said the public dissemination of psychiatric records and other private materials was a violation of his clients' rights. He said the records would "fan the flames" of public outrage, potentially resulting in violence against the accused, and would discourage those with pedophilic impulses from seeking help.
"A lawyer will have to advise that individual that they really don't have the option of psychiatric intervention, because what you tell your therapist can be published in the L.A. Times or reported to the police," he said.
A lawyer for the California Psychiatric Assn. also voiced concern about the release of mental health and substance abuse records. But the judge said that appellate courts have ruled that the public interest in protecting children from abuse outweighed individuals' privacy rights.
Photo of Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels by Friar's Balsam on Flickr