Catholics await release of files identifying abusive clergy

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A court has ordered Los Angeles' Roman Catholic Archdiocese to reveal the identities of priests whose names had been blacked out in documents accusing them of molesting children. The Archdiocese several years ago reached a $660 million settlement with abuse victims.

The news that a court has ordered LA’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese to release thousands of records identifying the names of priests accused of child abuse is stirring discussions among Southland Catholics—especially those who’ve waited years for the ruling. 

Some documents the Archdiocese must release are memos between top church officials and their attorneys, medical and psychological records, complaints from parents, and even correspondence with the Vatican about accused priests.

Once that evidence goes public, it will include a file about Esther Miller. When she was a 16-year-old in Van Nuys, a priest singled her out. Today, she’s in her forties.

“I still had this box, and I didn’t even know that was evidence," Miller says. "The love letters, the cards, the gifts, the jewelry, money he gave me out of the collection basket.”

In the years that followed, Miller earned multiple degrees, worked for an oil company and converted to Judaism. She participated in the LA Archdiocese’s $660 million settlement with abuse victims — the largest payout among many the Catholic Church has made in this country. But she says her share of that money has delivered little in the way of comfort, justice or practical help.

“They can throw more money at me, but that doesn’t solve anything—that doesn’t fix my life,"  Miller says. "That’s for the times that I can’t hold down a job and I can pay for therapy myself.”

Cardinal Roger Mahony headed the Archdiocese when it announced the 2008 settlement. At the time, he apologized for the pattern of abuse, and the Catholic Church’s response up to that point.

“I apologize to anyone who has been offended, who has been abused in the Catholic Church," he said at a press conference. "It should not have happened and it should not ever happen again.”

This most recent ruling takes matters further. Now the LA Archdiocese will have to reveal the names in more than 30,000 pages of files. In court, one of the church’s lawyers suggested that the records only include the name of Cardinal Mahony, now retired; through an attorney, he's said he's prepared to take personal responsibility for everything that has happened.

To former Catholics like Chip Bolcik of Thousand Oaks, news of the recent ruling represents a first step in the right direction.        

“I think the church has to be as truthful and frankly, has to confess its sins, to use the church’s vernacular, and say we really messed up on this, and we’re really going to try to make it right,"  Bolcik explains. "And here’s step one, we’re putting these names out and we’re shunning these people, and doing what we can to help the victims—not the priests.”

Bolcik, a voiceover artist in his forties, says the reason he left the church years ago because he couldn’t reconcile some of his political and social views with the religion in which he grew up. But he harbors good memories of his service as an altar boy, and he never encountered an abusive priest.

“I can't imagine the horrors these children suffered at the hands of bad priests,” he says.

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