After a 90-day voluntary moratorium failed to produce a settlement in 500 priest sex abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Boston, Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney yesterday ordered the release of psychiatric files for 87 priests accused of abuse, including those of the notorious Rev. Paul Shanley. According to the ruling, the archdiocese will notify priests of their 15 days to file an objection to the impending disclosure of their records. While lawyers for the archdiocese–arguing patient confidentiality–previously withheld the thousands of pieces of information, plaintiffs’ attorney Roderick MacLeish of Greenberg Traurig applauded the judge’s decision, telling the Boston Globe the files are instrumental in determining “whether the archdiocese actually listened to the experts” whom they consulted. “These documents will provide us with obviously relevant and important information,” he said.
Dioceses across the country–including Los Angeles, Louisville (KY), Altoona-Johnstown (PA), and Springfield (MA)–are embroiled in similar battles. Many, claiming First Amendment rights, have resisted disclosing church documents and dismissed lawsuits alleging abuse. Marci Hamilton, a church-state expert at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, criticized their position, saying “If there is a dispute on theology in a church, the courts will not choose what the theology meansÉ But that has never meant that churches are not liable under civil and criminal laws,” reported the Associated Press.