Judge to Rule on Abuse Filesjudge to Rule on Abuse Files
Open to Public? Haase May Make Move June 19 in Joliet Diocese Case

By Stewart Warren
The Herald News
June 7, 2002

JOLIET — Sealed records about sexual misconduct cases involving Catholic priests might be made public on June 19.

That's when Will County Judge Herman Haase will announce his decision on the information. The records are linked to a 1993 civil lawsuit alleging that the Rev. Lawrence M. Gibbs, a former priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Lockport, sexually abused Joseph Dittrich between 1980 and 1987.

Part of the Dittrich lawsuit involves allegations dating to 1980. At that time, Gibbs brought Dittrich, who was 11, to a cabin in Lake County. Gibbs got the boy drunk and molested him, according to the lawsuit. The complaint also accused Gibbs of sexual misconduct while serving as a priest in Lombard.

Two other men claim to have been abused by Gibbs at the same cabin. Dittrich's lawyer, Keith Aeschliman, also represented them in their 1994 lawsuits.

Aeschliman has asked the court to release the sealed information. In early April, he filed a motion arguing that the release of the records could prevent future acts of criminal sexual abuse by priests.

The Chicago Tribune also wants the information to become public, citing the First Amendment.

The diocese is willing to work with the state's attorney's office on these cases. But officials want the records to stay locked away.

On Thursday, Haase heard arguments from sides.

"What goes on in the public court is the public's business," Spears told Haase. "The bottom line is: They can't deny the public's constitutional right."

The diocese has argued that the information in the sealed records might be embarrassing to some people, Spears said. "The right of the public ... is more important that any embarrassment that might result."

But the records include information about innocent people, said Tim Bertschy, one of the attorneys representing the diocese. Some of them are priests who never were accused of sexual misconduct, he said. "An overriding interest rests in protecting the innocent," he said.

Aeschliman argued that the records were supposed to be sealed only during the duration of the court case. "The protective order expired at the close of the case," he said. "The longer these secrets are kept, the easier it is for the diocese to thwart any civil or criminal investigation."

Spears and Aeschliman agreed that they did not want the names of the victims to be made public.

After hearing both sides, Haase decided to take the matter "under advisement" until 10 a.m. June 19.


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