Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Judge orders release of priest sex abuse records

BURLINGTON, Vt. --A judge has ordered the release of church records and documents relating to the clergy sexual abuse scandal that are held by the attorney general's office.

Chittenden County Superior Court Judge Ben Joseph said disclosing the files to a lawyer representing 13 people charging they were sexually abused in the past by priests "is clearly in the 'public interest.'"

Jerome O'Neill, the attorney for the alleged 13 victims, praised the decision. He said until now, the statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington has been less than forthcoming in responding to his pretrial disclosure requests.

"We have only had a half-told story to date," O'Neill said. "We believe the new documents will show how the diocese permitted known sexual abusers to come to Vermont, moved the abusers from parish to parish, covered up for them and protected them at the expense of its children."

O'Neill's request that the diocese also turn over documents has not been decided. The documents that were the subject of Joseph's order were transcripts of interviews conducted by the attorney general's office or paperwork turned over voluntarily by the diocese.

Assistant Attorney General Caroline Earle said she was disappointed with Joseph's decision and that her office might ask him to reconsider.

"We disagree with his legal analysis that the public interest is served by the disclosure of our entire criminal investigative file," Earle said. "There is an extreme number of very sensitive documents here."

Among the diocesan files that Joseph has ordered the state to turn over to O'Neill are clergy medical and personnel records, victim disclosure statements, and letters between the diocese and the state Social and Rehabilitation Services Department.

Diocesan attorney William O'Brien said the diocese turned over documents with the understanding that they would be kept confidential.

"We are very sensitive about the privacy rights of third parties who aren't part of any litigation and probably won't appreciate having their names out in the public domain," O'Brien said.

The state's criminal investigation, conducted in 2002, led to the church's suspension of six active priests. No criminal charges were filed.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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