AG: Dead Priests Accused of Abuse Entitled to Privacy

By Joshua L. Weinstein
Portland Press
Downloaded August 5, 2003

The state Attorney General's Office is worried that if it discloses the names of deceased priests who have been accused of sexually abusing minors, it might create a precedent.

"Government collects a substantial amount of personal information about private individuals, including unsubstantiated allegations of misconduct," Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin wrote in a brief filed in Superior Court last week. "To disclose such information - especially against individuals who are deceased and therefore cannot defend their legacy - would do a disservice to our private citizens and public figures, as well as their survivors."

Robbin was writing in response to a lawsuit by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram asking for documents in the AG's office that refer to allegations against any dead priest. Because the documents are held by the government, they are presumed public under the Maine Freedom of Access Act. The state argues, however, that the documents are exempt under the law because they constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

The newspapers' lawyers argue that because the priests are dead, they have no right to personal privacy, and noted that "faced with the brunt of the priest sexual abuse scandal, Massachusetts Courts have consistently recognized the overwhelming nature of the public interest in disclosure of related information."

The newspapers' lawyers, Jonathan Piper and Sigmund Schutz, wrote that "at this point, defendant is complicit in the apparent Catholic Diocese cover-up of clergy sex abuse. It is high time to lift the veil of secrecy over these allegations, the response to the allegations and now the defendant's - the people's - own investigation."

In an interview Monday, Robbin said that the AG's office has no interest in protecting the names or reputations of priests who have sexually abused minors, but said that especially with laws like the Patriot Act, government collects an enormous amount of information that may not be appropriate to be released to the press.

"Just because it's in a government file doesn't make it credible," she said.

The newspapers' lawyers will file an answer to Robbin's brief on Friday.


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