Diocese Appeals Ruling on Secret Files
Judge Had Ordered Release of Documents
By Dave Altimari
Hartford Courant [Connecticut]
December 27, 2006
As expected, the Diocese of Bridgeport has filed an appeal of a Superior Court judge's ruling that thousands of pages of secret court files involving lawsuits against some of its priests be made public.
The case now appears headed back to the state Supreme Court, and the files concerning allegations of sexual abuse by as many as 23 priests within the diocese will remain sealed.
Attorneys for the diocese notified the Superior Court clerk in Waterbury late last week that they planned to appeal the decision of Judge Jon M. Alander to unseal nearly all of the more than 12,000 documents that have been under seal since the diocese quietly settled sexual abuse claims by 23 individuals in March 2001.
The court filing did not indicate on what grounds they plan to appeal Alander's ruling. Hartford attorney Ralph W. Johnson III, who is representing the diocese, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In his ruling earlier this month, Alander stated that he does not find compelling the argument by the diocese that the files should remained sealed out of concerns for ensuring a fair trial, should one become necessary. The diocese argued that this is a legitimate concern because two sex abuse lawsuits remain pending, in addition to the cases already settled, and future claims could be brought.
"The public's right of access to those documents is particularly strong in these cases due to the extraordinary public interest in knowing whether minors in Connecticut were sexually abused by priests employed by the Diocese and whether the Diocese was responsible for perpetuating that abuse," Alander wrote.
Alander's ruling comes about a year after the state Supreme Court paved the way for the documents' release by asserting that the files should be open to the public, before remanding the case back to the lower court.
By its action, the Supreme Court endorsed a 2002 lower court ruling, which the diocese appealed, that granted newspapers the right to intervene and seek access to the documents. Four newspapers, The Courant, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, sought to have the documents unsealed in 2002.
The abuse cases in question, which involved more than 23 victims, were settled in March 2001. The Courant obtained copies of some of the sealed documents about a year after the settlement, including depositions taken of Cardinal Edward M. Egan, archbishop of New York, who was bishop of the Bridgeport diocese from 1988 to 2000, and other diocesan officials.
Stories detailing how Egan and other officials in Bridgeport ignored accusations or protected abusive priests were published in The Courant in 2002. The stories were based on depositions from the lawsuits, documents from the personnel files of accused priests and other diocesan memorandums.
Diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer could not be reached for comment Tuesday. After Alander's decision was released this month, McAleer issued a statement expressing concern about the ruling.
"This case raises significant legal questions concerning the rights of litigants," McAleer said.
Contact Dave Altimari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.