Los Angeles, CA — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles released 12,000 pages of internal files last Thursday on priests accused of sexually abusing children, saying that it was finally abiding by a settlement it signed with victims six years ago to make the painful history public.
But it now appears that the files the church released with much fanfare are incomplete and many are unaccounted for, according to the abuse victims’ lawyers. In addition, on many documents the names of church supervisors informed of abuse allegations were redacted by the archdiocese, in apparent violation of a judge’s order.
At issue is whether the survivors of abuse and the public will ever learn which church officials were responsible for mishandling or covering up allegations of sexual abuse.
Abuse victims had insisted that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles release the records as part of a settlement in 2007, which provided $660 million to more than 500 victims. Other Catholic dioceses that have settled with victims have released similar records.
“We know we have not gotten a complete disclosure,” said Jeff Anderson, who is among the lawyers representing the victims. “They have removed things that should not have been removed, some of which we have seen before, so we know that they exist. It’s more deception, deceit and secrecy.”
But J. Michael Hennigan, a lawyer for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said in an interview that while there were probably a few errors, there was no intention to withhold information.
“I would be surprised if we did this job perfectly,” he said. “The team that worked on this worked under pressure sometimes late into the night.”
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles fought for six years all the way to the State Supreme Court to block the release of the documents. Early in January, Judge Emilie H. Elias overturned a previous decision, and ordered the archdiocese to lift the redactions of the names of certain kinds of officials: archbishops and bishops, vicars for clergy members and directors of treatment facilities, as well as pastors, “church agents” or employees who had supervisory responsibility over an accused priest and were made aware of complaints or suspicions about him.
But on many pages it appears that the names of supervisors, like pastors in parishes or the supervisors of religious orders, are missing.
For example, the file on Carlos Rodriguez, a priest serving in a parish in Central Los Angeles, includes a letter to him from his religious order, the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers, informing him that he is being sent to a treatment center in Maryland. Mr. Rodriguez was accused of molesting several teenage boys over the years. But while the letter makes clear that the writer is the priest’s religious superior, the name is redacted. Other documents in the file are similarly missing names of religious order supervisors.
Terrence McKiernan, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a victims’ advocacy group that collects documents on sexual abuse by clergy members, said he found many omissions by comparing the files on priests released by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with those released by the Diocese of Orange. The Orange Diocese used to be part of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, so there is an overlap in some files.
“They seem to be trying to protect the names of supervisors not only in Los Angeles, but in other dioceses as well,” Mr. McKiernan said.
Even the number of pages that exist in the files is now in contention.
At the hearing before Judge Elias on Jan. 7, Mr. Hennigan, the archdiocese’s lawyer, said there were 30,000 pages, arguing that it would take too long for his team to go through and remove the redactions on everything they had already redacted. “We have 30,000 pages,” he said. “Every page has to be gone through. Every redaction has to be examined afresh.”
But when the church announced on Jan. 31 that it was releasing the redacted files and making them accessible through its Web site, the announcement pointed out that there were actually only 12,000 pages of files.
Mr. Hennigan said the reason for the discrepancy was that the 30,000 number was a “wild guess” he had made based on how many bankers boxes of documents he had.
But several lawyers for the victims said it was absurd to think that the church was so off base on the count of documents it had already redacted.
Lawyers for the abuse victims said they were compiling a list of documents that they believe are missing or are erroneously redacted, and may file a motion next week to compel the church to release them.
©New York Times