Judge Denies Access to Files
Victim's Request for Priest's Records Called a "Fishing Expedition"

By Andrew Tilghman
Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
September 24, 2003

A state Supreme Court judge has denied a sexual abuse victim's request for access to a pedophile priest's personnel file at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

Justice Christian Hummel said seeking internal church documents about the Rev. John Bertolucci was "a wholly unsupported fishing expedition."

The man who said Bertolucci molested him in the 1970s sought the file, believing it would show the priest had repeatedly called his victims, possibly at the instruction of the Albany Diocese.

The suit filed last year named Bertolucci and the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, chancellor and spokesman for the Albany Diocese. It accused Doyle of plotting with Bertolucci to intimidate a victim of sexual abuse.

But on Tuesday, Hummel dismissed the portion of the lawsuit against Doyle.

The lawsuit focuses on a phone call Bertolucci made last year to the parents of the man he allegedly molested. The call in September came just one day before the victim was scheduled to meet with church officials to file a complaint of sexual abuse against Bertolucci. Bertolucci allegedly urged the parents to stop their son from filing the complaint.

The victim and his lawyer, John Aretakis, accused Doyle of telling Bertolucci to place the call.

Hummel said that Bertolucci's file had no bearing on the lawsuit.

Hummel's decision strikes a sharp contrast with the judge overseeing clergy sex abuse cases in Boston, the epicenter of the national scandal. Last year, Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney ordered the Archdiocese of Boston to release all personnel files of priests accused of sexual abuse, a move that ultimately revealed the extent of the problem in the Boston area.

Bertolucci admitted in court papers that he made the call, but said he was unaware of the scheduled meeting and the call was a coincidence.

Bertolucci also admitted in court papers to improperly touching the man more than 20 years ago, but New York's three-year statute of limitations would likely bar any lawsuit that directly targeted the abuse.

Bertolucci was removed from ministry in June 2000 when Bishop Howard Hubbard implemented a zero-tolerance policy.

Doyle denied any contact with Bertolucci in the days leading up to the phone call and meeting.

In dismissing the case, Hummel said Doyle's account was "uncontroverted" and the allegations were "unsupported speculation," according to the order dated Monday.

"I said months ago that Mr. Aretakis' claims were fiction and they have been showed to be just that," Doyle said in a written statement released Tuesday. "I feel a certain relief from the court's decision, although my pain in being wrongly accused does not compare to the pain suffered by victims of sexual abuse."

Hummel has also received a letter from a California man uninvolved in the lawsuit who wanted to see Bertolucci's personnel file because he believed the priest molested his brother, who is now deceased.

On Friday, Hummel rejected Aretakis's request that the judge remove himself from clergy sex abuse cases.

In an exchange that highlights the contentiousness of the case, Aretakis had accused Hummel of trying to curry favor with local judicial officials by favoring the diocese in clergy sex abuse cases.

Hummel responded in his decision this week with harsh words and a threat for Aretakis.

"There is ... a clearly defined line between zealous representation and unprincipled attacks on the judiciary. (Aretakis) has repeatedly crossed that line," Hummel wrote.

"Such behavior will not be tolerated in this court or any court. If (Aretakis) again engages in attacks on the court which are completely lacking in factual or legal support, this court will schedule a hearing to determine if Mr. Aretakis should be held in contempt of court," Hummel wrote.

Aretakis said on Tuesday: "I stand by all of my allegations. If all of that is not true, he could already hold me in contempt."

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