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  Lauzon Lawsuit Opens Church's 'Secret Archive'
Every Catholic Diocese Must Keep Two Sets of Records, One of Them for the Bishop's Eyes Only

By Gregory Kesich
Portland Press Herald (Maine)
March 27, 2002

The lawsuit against the Rev. Raymond Lauzon offered a rare public glimpse at documents from the "secret archive" of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

Notes from strategy sessions involving high-ranking church officials and lawyers working on the Lauzon lawsuit had been dutifully recorded and kept in the archive that is for the eyes of the bishop, or his designated helpers, alone.

A Superior Court judge ruled, in this one case, that the seal should be broken and the records revealed. In doing so, the judge brought to public attention part of the church's complex administrative system.

The centuries-old system of rules and customs of the Roman Catholic Church, codified as canon law, requires that every diocese keep two sets of records, a regular archive and a secret archive.

Secret archives have been used for different purposes in different times and places. For instance, in countries where a couple's lives would be endangered by a church wedding, they could be married in secret, with the records kept in confidence.

For the Portland diocese, the secret archive is a putty-colored filing cabinet in a business office of the chancery on Ocean Avenue.

It is what in many offices would be called a confidential file, and it is used to store records that are of a sensitive nature, said Sue Bernard, the diocesan spokeswoman.

A request by a priest for psychiatric help or substance abuse counseling would be kept in the secret archive.

Secret files are among the records that have been turned over to District Attorney Stephanie Anderson for her investigation of child sex-abuse complaints made against priests during the past 75 years, Bernard said.

Anderson said she knows about the second set of records and is confident she has received full access to them.

The use, and potential misuse, of the secret archives was an issue in another Maine case, a lawsuit against the church by four relatives of the Rev. Marcel Robitaille, who faced allegations of having had sexual relations with three younger brothers and a nephew.

The plaintiffs' lawyers were denied access to Robitaille's secret-archive file by then-Superior Court Justice Leigh Saufley, who later dismissed the case against the church, finding that the abuse occurred only through family relationships and not through Robitaille's duties as a priest.

In court documents, the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, an expert on canon law, said that some bishops and their assistants have confused the confidential nature of the secret archive with the inviolable secrecy accorded to admissions made during confession and spiritual counseling.

Those conversations are permitted to be kept secret by civil law, but confidential personnel records could be subject to public scrutiny under certain circumstances.

"When a complaint about alleged sexual abuse by a cleric is made to a diocesan official or bishop, the bishop is required to conduct a preliminary investigation in order to determine what actions to take," Doyle said. "A record of the investigation is kept. This investigation does not involve spiritual counseling and is not exempt (from disclosure.)"

 
 

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