Access to Abuse Records Limited by Archdiocese
Automatic Access Will No Longer Be Given, Spokesman Says [Boston MA]
September 17, 2003

BOSTON -- Changes in policy governing access to internal records of the Boston Archdiocese have some advocates of alleged clergy sexual abuse victims upset, but church officials said the revisions were necessary to protect any falsely accused priests.

"It doesn't say (accusers) won't be given access," the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a church spokesman, said Tuesday. "It says they won't be given automatic access. They just don't have automatic access to all information."

Coyne said the change in church policy was not made in connection with any particular case.

The revisions to the "Policies and Procedures for the Protection of Children," officially released May 30, were posted on the church's Web site in late July.

However the policy changes apparently were made without the knowledge of members of the commission appointed by then Cardinal Bernard F. Law to help craft the policy, or members of a second lay advisory committee charged with overseeing its implementation.

Maureen Scannell Bateman, a Boston lawyer who was chairwoman of the Cardinal's Commission for the Protection of Children, said the panel recommended full access for victims to records of church proceedings in cases of accused priests. Although the commission knew that canon lawyers for the church would review their work, there was no notice from the archdiocese that the policy would be changed, Bateman said.

"We labored and labored over our report," she said. "Why would they then change it (the policy) without telling anyone? That is a very valid question."

Mary Jane Doherty, a special assistant to the president at Regis College and a member of the Implementation and Oversight Advisory Commission now monitoring enforcement of the policy, said she was told that only editing and streamlining changes - not substantive ones - would be made in June.

Among the changes was the removal of language that appeared to grant abuse victims the right to view "information generated in connection with an investigation of alleged child abuse."

The Rev. Robert W. Oliver, the church canon law expert who oversaw the changes, said there never was any intent to give accusers full access to the church's investigative files.

"There was nothing created that was taken away," Oliver said.

He said the church never intended to give alleged victims of abuse more rights than those given to someone making a criminal accusation in state court. In state courts, he said, crime victims are not given full access to a district attorney's investigative files.

Oliver also said there was no need to seek outside input on the changes because the church didn't view them as more than technical revisions.

Last week, the archdiocese announced that it had reached a settlement of $85 million with 552 alleged clergy sex abuse victims.


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