Files on accused Los Angeles priests could become public next month

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Files the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles kept on dozens of priests accused of sexual child abuse could become public next month.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered Monday that the Archcdiocese turn confidential files over to her by the end of this month so she can review objections to redacted issues. Plantiffs and the Los Angeles Times have filed objections to the redactions. 

Plaintiffs and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to release the files. They're believed to contain letters, psychological reports, notes and other documents about the accused priests as part of a $660 million settlement in 2007 to close more than 500 alleged abuse cases.

“We’ve waited for five years,” plaintiffs' attorney Ray Boucher said in court Monday. “We need to end this process.”

Boucher represents many of the plaintiffs who sued the Archdiocese. He's reviewed 69 of the 149 files on priests that the church kept - and he called the documents "explosive." He said he wants the files to become public because they will reveal the names of the accused priests he said could be in contact with children today. 

“For the first time the public will have a chance to see a church that hid priests, that provided sanctuary and asylum to priests they knew were molesting children,” Boucher said. 

A hearing scheduled for Jan. 7 will address plaintiffs' objections over what information the church would redact in the documents and what files it will hand over.  A previous judge allowed the Archdiocese to black out names of the church hierarchy, but plaintiffs are arguing for more transparency.

“What you’re really saying is we’re going to give those people a pass. That’s not okay because really that’s what went wrong here,” said John Manly, one of the attorneys representing a victim of convicted priest Michael Baker.

Baker told former Cardinal Roger Mahony in 1986 that he had abused children. Mahony sent the priest to get treatment, restricted his ministry, and moved the man to other parishes. The cardinal later apologized for how he handled that case.

Michael Hennigan is one of the attorneys representing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He told the court on Monday that it is ready to hand over 69 files on priests as is under the redaction rules set by the previous judge.

“We want to get this done,” he said.

But plaintiffs say the church needs to release 80 more priests' files. Hennigan said those files are unrelated to the sexual abuse, and the Archdiocese wants to protect the privacy of those priests.

“Essentially what they’re asking is, ‘trust us, we’ll audit this and we’ll tell you if anything is bad,’” said Manly.

Judge Emile Elias said she wants to see both versions of the files - redacted and un-redacted - and will rule on objections to the blacked out portions in January.

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