One of the less reported on aspects of the many appearances by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in US Bankruptcy Court is the Archdiocese’s requests to keep information under seal (meaning filed with the Court but protected from becoming part of the public record). This week, one such request related to information regarding settlements paid to victims of sexual abuse by clergy. The Archdiocese sought ‘wide discretion’ in withholding information about settlements, including financial details, but that motion was challenged by the Star Tribune, which argued that ‘a policy of openness promotes actual fairness and the appearance of fairness, and enables the press to perform its watchdog function’. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kessel seemed to agree, ruling that the Archdiocese’s request was ‘too vague’. All parties were in agreement that the names and identifying information of victims would remain confidential.
Of course, this is not the first time that the Archdiocese has sought to protect its information from disclosure, especially information that could be perceived as detrimental to the Archdiocese or its leadership. I am sure that you recall the (unsuccessful) motions filed in court last year to try and block the releases of the names of accused clergy and also the deposition of Archbishop Nienstedt. These arguments generally repeated the Archdiocesan mantra that such actions would cause ‘irreparable harm to the Archdiocese and its clergy’. For instance, the Archdiocese challenged an earlier court decision requiring it to disclose the names of all clergy accused of sexual abuse of minors after 2004, arguing that it was obligated to ‘vigorously defend the rights of clergy members who have been the subject of false, frivolous or malicious claims against them’. We now know that this attempt included files such as that of Father William Stolzman.
It may have been this connection between the Archdiocese’s expensive and exhaustive attempts to protect ‘its’ information (based on arguments that to do otherwise violated ‘the Archdiocese’s constitutional due process, equal protection and free exercise rights of the United States Constitution’), and Father Stolzman that called to my mind the contrast between the Archdiocese’s aggressive legal protection of clergy and settlement records and its laissez faire attitude towards the records of the lay faithful, and in particular the sacramental records of Catholics in this Archdiocese.
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