Egan Resources – January 2003
By Eric Ruth
An attorney for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport argued Friday that the state Appellate Court should deny the public access to thousands of documents relating to 23 settled lawsuits against priests accused of sexually abusing minors.
The attorney, John B. Farley, argued that a lower court judge lacked jurisdiction last May when he agreed to entertain requests from various newspapers -- including The Courant and The New York Times -- that the confidential files be disclosed. Farley maintained that the judge erred again when he subsequently granted the newspapers' request. In the May ruling, Superior Court Judge Robert F. McWeeny said that "in a matter of such widespread public interest, the judicial system should not be party to a coverup by denying access to such information."
At the time, McWeeny heard the newspapers' requests as a new case, set up to handle the matter "administratively" -- a move the diocese argues was intended to sidestep a four-month statutory limit on reopening cases. McWeeny found that orders sealing the records from public view were intended to protect the defendants' right to a fair trial and that they therefore expired when the cases were settled.
Farley argued Friday that, without reopening the underlying case, McWeeny effectively vacated orders sealing the records when he ordered the documents released. Farley spoke of the "plain unfairness" to the defendants who believed the cases were settled, and of the newspapers' "abject failure" to intervene in a timely fashion.
"The trial court lost the authority to modify [the order] after the four-month period expired," Farley said. "In the seven years these cases were pending, the newspapers didn't do anything to vacate these orders."
He asked that the Appellate Court reverse McWeeny's decision and order that "the lower court not tamper with the outcome of the 23 closed cases."
The Courant's attorney, Ralph G. Elliot, argued that the public has a constitutional right to inspect court files and that the chief order sealing the files -- "until further order of the court" -- was not intended to remain in force after tainting a potential jury pool ceased to be a concern.
"The rights of the public and the press are violated every day [the seal] remains in effect," Elliot told the court.
In response to Farley, Elliot argued that McWeeny neither reopened the underlying matters, nor vacated an order in those matters. "What Judge McWeeny did was allow The Courant and The Times to assert their constitutional rights," he said.
The attorney for The Times, Jonathan M. Albano of Boston, said that even if McWeeny, by creating a new case, handled the newspapers' request in an arguably unusual fashion, the judge was faced with a legal matter without precedent in Connecticut. Even if the approach was imperfect, he suggested, the judge ensured that the rights of all parties involved were protected in the new case.
The three appellate judges who heard the argument Friday -- Paul M. Foti, Joseph P. Flynn and Thomas G. West -- asked few questions.
Although the contents of the court's file remain hidden, the legal maneuver by the newspapers echoes the media's successful effort to unseal priest abuse cases in Boston. There, the disclosure of court files triggered a public scandal that led, last month, to the resignation of Archbishop Bernard Law.
The Bridgeport documents -- church memoranda, depositions and other records -- were entered into the court's file over seven years of litigation conducted largely outside of public view. The lawsuits charge sexual abuse by six priests, spanning three decades beginning in the 1960s.
The diocese settled the cases for $12 million in March 2001, and the lawsuits were withdrawn. The files gathered dust in the clerk's office at Waterbury Superior Court until, a day before they were slated to be destroyed, The Times filed an emergency petition last March asking that they be opened to the public.
The newspaper's request apparently was triggered by a story that appeared in The Courant earlier that month, Farley said Friday. The Courant had obtained copies of several thousand pages of the sealed documents, a portion of a total said to fill seven boxes.
The documents showed that, as bishop of the Bridgeport diocese, New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan allowed abusive priests to remain in ministry, failed to report abuse claims to the authorities, and tended to dismiss accusers even when patterns of abuse allegations were evident.
None of the alleged victims has opposed release of the documents. The court is not expected to issue a decision for several months.
Cardinal Egan Upsets Members of Review Board Studying Abuse
By Laurie Goodstein
Cardinal Edward M. Egan has given a cold reception to the national review board of prominent Roman Catholics who were appointed by the bishops to study the priest sexual abuse scandal and who are to meet in New York on Friday, according to board members.
Unlike other bishops in cities where the board has met, the cardinal and his auxiliary bishops have said they will be unavailable to celebrate Mass for the board members. The cardinal also prohibited the group as a whole from attending a dinner for the Knights of Malta, a Catholic fraternal organization, at the Waldorf-Astoria on Friday night.
Cardinal Egan also interfered with a speaking event for Kathleen L. McChesney, the executive director of the bishops' new Office for Child and Youth Protection, at a parish on Park Avenue this month. Ms. McChesney had accepted a speaking invitation from churchgoers at St. Ignatius Loyola, then she postponed it after learning of the cardinal's disapproval, several board members said.
In interviews, many members of the 13-member board said that they had been surprised and stung by the cardinal's decisions.
"We certainly mean no disrespect to him," said Robert S. Bennett, a board member, "but we have a job to do and we're going to do it, and we want and expect his full cooperation. There's just no reason why he should not be working in a cooperative spirit with the board."
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the New York Archdiocese, said that Cardinal Egan did not have an adversarial relationship with the board. He said the cardinal had agreed to meet with the board later this month in Washington to discuss how his archdiocese is handling accusations of child sexual abuse. The board is now interviewing many bishops, and Cardinal Egan is among the first.
Mr. Zwilling said that scheduling conflicts prohibited the cardinal or any of his auxiliary bishops from saying Mass for the board members in New York. But Mr. Zwilling confirmed that the cardinal had refused to allow the board as a group to attend the dinner for the Knights of Malta, because the board's presence might bring unwanted publicity to the event. However, four members of the board -- two men and two women -- are Knights or Dames of Malta, and the cardinal said he had no concerns about their attendance at the dinner.
"Cardinal Egan did feel that the Knights and Dames of Malta have not in any way been tied into the whole issue of the sexual abuse scandal, and he felt it was an outside distraction for the Knights of Malta, and that the dinner was not an appropriate place for the distraction," Mr. Zwilling said.
At their meeting in Dallas last June, the American bishops voted overwhelmingly to establish a National Review Board of laypeople to help investigate and look for solutions to the scandal. Former Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma was appointed chairman, and he quickly antagonized many bishops and Vatican officials by emphasizing the board's watchdog role. The bishops also set up an Office of Child and Youth Protection to help monitor their compliance with a new national policy on abuse prevention.
Both the board and Ms. McChesney are in the awkward position of acting as independent investigators to keep the bishops accountable, while serving at their pleasure.
At the board's previous meetings in Santa Barbara, Calif., Covington, Ky., and Washington, local bishops have welcomed and said Mass for the board members. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington celebrated Mass for them, and Bishop Thomas J. Curry, auxiliary of Los Angeles, joined them for dinner in Santa Barbara. Among the board members are prominent Catholic lawyers, business people, psychologists and a judge, all volunteers.
Yesterday, after two reporters made inquiries about the dust-up to the New York Archdiocese, Ms. McChesney rescheduled her speech at St. Ignatius Loyola. All she would say about the dispute was, "The important thing is getting out there and talking about the issue of sexual abuse to make sure there aren't more victims."
St. Ignatius is a Jesuit parish that is also offering a platform next month to James Post, one of the founders of Voice of the Faithful, a new Catholic lay group formed in response to the scandal. Last year, Cardinal Egan prohibited St. Ignatius from remodeling its historic sanctuary to allow more room for parishioners to participate in services.
On Friday at 7 a.m., members of the National Review Board plan to gather for Mass at a parish that welcomed them, which happens to be St. Ignatius.
Catholic Review Board Begins Its Interviews on Abuse Crisis
By Laurie Goodstein
A review board of Roman Catholic laypeople appointed by the nation's bishops to investigate the sexual abuse scandal in the church has begun the first of 100 interviews it plans to conduct with bishops, abuse victims and experts to measure the crisis.
Among those who have agreed to be interviewed, the board said yesterday, is Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned last month as archbishop of Boston over his handling of abuse cases.
The contents of the interviews will be kept confidential, said Robert S. Bennett of Washington, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor who oversees the effort.
The board plans to release a report with its findings more than a year from now.
"They're not prosecutive interviews, although we will ask the tough questions," Mr. Bennett said.
Members of the 13-member National Review Board, meeting yesterday in New York, said that they were optimistic that bishops would disclose the information that the board sought.
"In the end, it's in their interest to cooperate in this effort," said Leon E. Panetta, a member of the board and the chief of staff in the Clinton White House, because, "if we don't restore trust, the church and its institutions will be damaged."
The board expects to produce four reports. The first, set for June, is a statistical survey of the problem. Kathleen McChesney, a former F.B.I. official who became director of the bishops' new Office of Child and Youth Protection last month, said the report would find out how many priests had abused how many victims, when the abuses occurred and for how long, how the priests and victims knew one another, the victims' ages and sex and whether drugs or alcohol were involved.
Ms. McChesney said the board would depend on the bishops of each diocese to provide the statistics.
In December, Ms. McChesney hopes to release a separate audit on how well each diocese complies with a charter and guidance that the bishops passed in June in Dallas and that the Vatican made into church law. The charter detailed the steps that each bishop should take to prevent child abuse. Auditing teams will visit each of the 195 dioceses, she said.
The third study, which Mr. Bennett is preparing based on the 100 or more interviews, is on the causes of the crisis. Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York has agreed to be questioned by the panel for that report. Mr. Bennett said the study would not avoid some "big, big issues," like whether priestly celibacy or homosexuality contributed to the problem.
The board is commissioning a secular university or other institution to undertake the fourth study on "the celibate clergy," said Dr. Paul R. McHugh, a panel member and a former director of the psychiatry department at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Dr. McHugh said this would be a scientific survey that could be published in peer-reviewed journals and that examined the rates of abuse in the priesthood compared with the public at large. The survey could take several years to produce, he said.
Other board members are scrutinizing other areas set out by the bishops. Nicholas P. Cafardi, dean of the Duquesne University Law School, leads an effort to examine the performance of the sexual abuse review boards in each diocese that are supposed to make recommendations about accused priests. One sensitive issue for the board is whether to press the bishops to release the names of all the abusive priests in their dioceses. Many bishops have been hesitant to release the names, saying that abusers are dead and that the publicity would harm others.
Ray H. Siegfried II, another board member and the chairman of the Nordam Group, an aviation company, said he would push for full disclosure.
"Transparency is what the charter says," Mr. Siegfried said,
"and anything short of that this businessman is not going to accept."
Bishop Accountability © 2003