March 25, 2005


Orange County Weekly


It’s been almost four months since Orange County Catholic Church officials first promised to release all personnel files on employees accused of child molestation—and still nothing. Plaintiffs who settled with the diocese for a record-breaking $100 million say those documents will prove church officials knew about and protected the pedophiles in their ranks. But ever since lawyers for Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown turned over about 30 boxes of papers to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy for review on Jan. 31, no one with the Church or the courts has said when—if ever—the public will see those supposed smoking guns.

According to a confidential Jan. 3 e-mail from diocesan officials to priests, the diocese “retains the right to object” to disclosure of documents “on any available legal grounds.” And McCoy can only release what Orange diocese officials gave up. Which raises the fascinating question: Did the Orange diocese turn over all documents as required by the settlement? Or did some documents pay a visit to Mr. Shredder?

Elsewhere in the U.S., lawyers have answered the question by issuing subpoenas to church employees (see below). But not here—where there’s good reason for skepticism about the church’s record keeping: when the Boston Archdiocese sex-abuse scandal erupted in 2002, one of the accused was Father Richard Coughlin. Coughlin served in Orange County from the late 1960s until his suspension in 1993 for allegedly fondling choirboys. Orange officials insisted they never knew of Coughlin’s past and maintained their blissful ignorance until Boston officials released a Dec. 3, 1985, memo in which a Beantown priest alerted then-Orange Bishop John Steinbock about Coughlin.
Here are a few other examples of diocesan record dumping:

* On Sept. 9, 2003, Father James Scahill admitted to a judge that Bishop Thomas Dupré of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, once told a group of priests, “Fortunately for us, before his retirement, [the previous bishop] destroyed many personal and personnel records.” Scahill described Dupré as “very happy. He seemed happy, relieved” when the bishop made those remarks. Dupré later became the first sitting bishop ever indicted on molestation charges.

Posted by kshaw at March 25, 2005 07:13 AM