Mass. Court Allows Look at Church Files

Big News Network [Massachusetts]
Downloaded May 15, 2004

The highest court in Massachusetts ruled the First Amendment does not allow religions to keep possibly incriminating files from investigators.

In a 4-3 ruling stemming from the numerous allegations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, the Supreme Judicial Court handed down a decision Thursday stating the Commonwealth's interest in preventing sexual abuse of student and does not intrude on freedom of religion.

The court's dissenters said the decision allows for too much access to the workings of religious orders, the Boston Globe reported.

Justices were ruling on a case brought by Suffolk County prosecutors and the New England chapter of the Society of Jesus. A Jesuit priest had been indicted for alleged sexual abuse of two students and investigators wanted to see letters the suspect had written to his superiors, the newspaper said.

Attorneys for the Jesuits said that would interfere with the priest's First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religious expression. Justice Martha Sosman, writing for the majority, disagreed, saying the handing over the letters does not affect religious practices.

Dissenting justices said that the highly charged atmosphere because of the church's sexual abuse scandal led the majority into a bad decision.


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