Court Blocks Release of Accused Priests' Info

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the Internet release of summaries of personnel files of 117 priests accused of molestation.

The move came just minutes before the documents were to become public.

The files from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (search) had been expected to provide an unprecedented look at how the archdiocese handled suspected child molesters and identify some accused priests whose names have not yet been made public.

Known as proffers, they indicate when the church was told of alleged misconduct, who made the report and what action was taken.

The state Supreme Court intervened less than 15 minutes before the files were to be released by sending the case back to the appeals court that had cleared the way for the material to be made public, said Donald Steier (search), an attorney who represents 26 of the priests.

Victims of alleged abuse reacted with anger to the delay.

"Of course, we're disappointed," said Mary Grant, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (search). "Now the little truth that could have come out of [the release] is being blocked again."

The proffers are the result of mediation efforts between the archdiocese and attorneys for victims aimed at settling some 550 molestation claims against the nation's largest archdiocese.

The material was to have been posted on the archdiocese Web site last December. But Steier won an emergency stay from the 2nd District Court of Appeal. The panel, however, rejected his petition to make the stay permanent. The emergency stay was to expire at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The abuse lawsuits were filed under a 2002 state law that suspended for one year the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims. They are among nearly 1,000 claims filed against the Roman Catholic Church in California under that law.

The church is battling to keep full personnel files from prosecutors investigating at least two Los Angeles priests for alleged sex crimes.

A retired judge appointed to review those cases said last September that prosecutors could review those files as part of their investigation. The ruling is pending on appeal.

Church attorneys contend the files are protected by the First Amendment because they contain confidential communications between priests and confessors that are central to Catholic beliefs.

The church also said turning over the documents would violate the separation of church and state by creating excessive government entanglement in the affairs of the church.