Priest Accused of Abuse Asks Court to Keep His File Secret
He Cites the Potential Violation of His Rights. Archdiocese's Personnel Records Are Sought by a Lawyer for Four Who Say They Are Victims

By John Spano
Los Angeles Times
September 9, 2006

A Los Angeles priest has asked an appeals court to block the release of his church personnel file to four people who have accused him of molesting them as children.

Lynn Caffoe, who was suspended from the priesthood after sexual abuse claims in 1991, says disclosure of the confidential files to plaintiffs suing him over the alleged abuse would violate his rights.

Donald H. Steier, who represents Caffoe and many other priests, said Friday, "It's an important case. Let's do it right."

Katherine K. Freberg, who represents the four, said the church continues to attempt to evade responsibility for its sexual abuse crisis.

"Father Caffoe and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will do anything possible to keep these documents from seeing the light of day," Freberg said. She said the file would show "the church's continuing coverup and protection of these priests."

Some 570 people have sued individual priests and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, alleging that the church failed to protect them from sexual abuse over the last 60 years. The civil action against Caffoe is scheduled for trial in November.

How the courts treat Caffoe's files will affect how other accused priests are treated and the extent to which the victims can develop their legal claims. The archdiocese, citing the church's constitutional rights and other privileges, has long fought to keep its files from attorneys for victims and prosecutors.

The U.S. Supreme Court in April ordered Cardinal Roger M. Mahony to turn over the documents to the county grand jury, and a trial judge ruled they must go to the Caffoe plaintiffs.

Summaries of Caffoe's personnel file that have been disclosed indicate that complaints of misconduct were lodged against him in 1986 and 1989. In 1991, the priest's therapist reported his suspicion of child abuse to law enforcement, according to a church summary of the file. Police opened an investigation, and Mahony suspended Caffoe shortly thereafter.

Mahony has said he and other bishops at first believed molesters could be cured through therapy. The cardinal said he has since come to understand the approach has failed, and the church has declared a zero-tolerance policy.

Caffoe's appeal to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles seeks to assert a number of individual rights, including privacy, attorney-client privilege and physician-patient privilege, Steier said.

The appeals court froze proceedings until it has a chance to hear Caffoe's appeal.

"We need the documents to try these cases. We need the documents to do further investigation," Freberg said.

"The church is well aware that if they can tie these documents up in the court system, they also can stop the trial."


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