Appeal Set in Priest's Abuse Case
Diocesan Officials Are Held in Contempt for Not Giving up Personnel Data about Mark Campobello
By Geri Nikolai
Rockford Register Star
May 23, 2003
St. Charles — The Catholic Diocese of Rockford refused to turn over documents related to the conduct of a priest charged in a sex abuse case, instead asking a judge Thursday to hold it in contempt of court.
The diocese told Kane County Judge Timothy Sheldon it would not turn over its internal documents on the conduct of the Rev. Mark Campobello, who is charged with sexual abuse of a minor girl.
Sheldon then ruled that the diocese was in civil contempt, which enables the church to appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court. The diocese says it is protected by the First Amendment.
"We had to be held in contempt. That is the only way we can get to a higher court," said Ellen Lynch of Hinshaw & Culbertson, which represents the diocese.
Lynch said an appeal would be filed soon, but she has no idea when the appellate court will rule or what action the diocese will take if it loses the appeal.
The dispute over church documents has become a key issue of the Campobello case.
Campobello was at St. James Parish in Belvidere when he was arrested in December on charges of sexually assaulting a then-14-year-old girl in 1999. At that time, Campobello was working at Aurora Catholic High School and living in the St. Peter Parish rectory in Geneva.
The young woman took her claims to Geneva police last year.
Campobello was relieved of his duties in Belvidere immediately after his arrest.
The documents dispute began when the Kane County state's attorney's office, which is prosecuting Campobello, subpoenaed the diocese for several personnel documents on the priest. Sheldon heard arguments on that last month, then issued a written statement that the church did not have to release medical or mental health records on Campobello.
But Sheldon said he would review other papers and decide which should be passed on to prosecutors. Included were papers on any church investigation or reports from its misconduct officer and information in the diocesan archive normally accessible only to the bishop.
Lynch said the church cannot comply.
"It goes back to the whole notion of the Constitution and the First Amendment," she said in a telephone interview with the Rockford Register Star. "The state is not to entangle itself in internal workings of any religious entity.
"If we are to just willy-nilly turn over whatever the state asks for, then we're permitting the state to encroach upon the boundaries of the First Amendment. The governance by a religious entity of its employees and ministers is not subject to scrutiny or review by the state."
Lynch said the diocese is not making its decisions based on the innocence or guilt of Campobello but on the importance of church law.
"Even in the absence of the First Amendment, the Code of Canon Law prohibits us from disclosing to any third party certain governance matters," she said.
Remarks made in court Thursday could not be heard by spectators, but lawyers said Sheldon questioned whether the case would remain in his court if one issue is appealed. What happens with the criminal case might become clearer June 26, when Sheldon scheduled an update.
"This is an unusual situation, where an appeal is taken in the middle of the proceedings," said Rockford attorney Paul Gaziano, who is defending Campobello. "We're going to have to go do some research on where the case goes from here."
The Rockford Diocese's arguments against revealing documents are similar to those put forth by Catholic bishops around the nation in past months as hundreds of people filed claims of sexual abuse by priests.
A national news report from The Associated Press this week cited five dioceses that have used First Amendment arguments to block the release of church files or throw out lawsuits. The arguments failed in Boston and Louisville, and decisions are pending elsewhere.
Diocesan records might answer some questions about handling the Campobello case that prosecutors raised last month when they argued that the files should be released. Comments in open court by prosecutor Jody Gleason and other lawyers indicated that Campobello once was treated at St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., a psychiatric hospital where the church sent many priests who were accused of sexual misconduct.
No one has said publicly outside of court if or when Campobello was at St. Luke.
Gleason also said a person claiming to represent the Rockford Diocese was interviewing people in the Geneva area about the charges against Campobello in early October, even before the woman took her complaint to police.
Yet Bishop Thomas G. Doran told the Register Star on Dec. 4 that he did not know about the case until Campobello's arrest Dec. 3.
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