Friday, November 18, 2005

The Hireling Report #16

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State Supreme Court tells cardinal to turn over files

From the L.A. Daily News
November 18, 2005

Associated Press

The state Supreme Court declined to overturn an appeals court ruling that forces Cardinal Roger Mahony to turn over the private personnel files of two former priests accused of sexual molestation.
The ruling this week is the latest development in a battle between the Los Angeles County district attorney, who subpoenaed the files three years ago, and the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese.

Mahony has argued that opening the files would violate the church's constitutional right of religious freedom. Donald Steier, an attorney for the individual priests, said he was considering appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling is a blow for Mahony and the archdiocese because, barring another appeal, it means prosecutors may scour the personnel files for evidence that could result in criminal charges against additional clergy members - and possibly even Mahony himself.

One former priest, Michael Wempe, is expected to go on trial within weeks on three counts of committing a lewd act on a child and one count of oral copulation of a person under 16. District Attorney Steve Cooley has said his investigators are also looking into several other cases that could fall within the statute of limitations for prosecution of sexual abuse.

"This is an important milestone in addressing the issue of clerical sexual abuse," Cooley said. "I look forward to immediate access to files we subpoenaed from the Los Angeles Archdiocese."

In a separate civil case, a judge ruled Wednesday that a monsignor must submit to deposition questions and can't assert "clergy privilege" to avoid revealing whether he heard confessions of a deacon accused of sexual abuse.

"The penitential privilege protects a communication made in confidence," wrote Judge Haley Fromholz, who has been supervising a global settlement of more than 550 civil lawsuits against the archdiocese. "It does not prohibit the disclosure of the fact that the communication occurred."

Church attorneys argued that all communications between a priest and a bishop are privileged. Some priests might continue to refuse to answer questions despite the ruling, said Donald Woods, an archdiocese attorney.

Monsignor Michael Lenihan was deposed last summer in cases involving three priests, including Michael Baker, a deacon he supervised who later admitted abusing two brothers and has been accused in other cases.

Lenihan also was questioned about his nephew, who is accused of abuse, and a case in which a woman allegedly reported abuse to him.


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