April 20, 2006

Not the cardinal's rules

Los Angeles Times

April 20, 2006

HIS LAST-DITCH APPEAL to the U.S. Supreme Court rejected, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony may soon find himself at the mercy of a far less exalted body: the civil jury. Given the American Catholic Church's lamentable record in dealing with abusers in the ranks of the clergy, that is a just result.

The Supreme Court wisely declined this week to prolong an unseemly legal dispute over Mahony's refusal to turn over to authorities the personnel files of two priests accused of molesting minors. The L.A. archdiocese has no choice but to accept that personnel and counseling files of clergy members must be made available to a grand jury investigating the possible commission of crimes. Church authorities should go further, however, and also make such records available in civil lawsuits.

Lawyers for the archdiocese had argued that the personnel files, which contain information about the psychological evaluation and treatment of members of the clergy, are protected by a variation of the confidentiality of communications between priest and penitent and by the 1st Amendment's protection of freedom of religion. Public disclosure of personnel files of troubled priests, the church argued, would "destroy the confidentiality and trust between the bishop and his priests, which is essential to the sanctification process." A California appellate court was unimpressed, declaring that churches must abide by "the rules of civil society, particularly when the state's compelling interest in protecting children is in question."

Posted by kshaw at April 20, 2006 02:07 PM