Judge Orders Boston Archdiocese to Ask for Priests' Medical Files

A judge has ordered the Boston Archdiocese (search) to ask dozens of priests for permission to release their psychiatric files to attorneys trying to determine how much church officials knew about clergy sexual abuse.

The medical files covered by Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney's ruling Friday include reports experts made after treating priests at mental health clinics, retreats and other institutions.

The archdiocese, which has been at the center of the clergy abuse crisis in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church (search), did not return a call seeking comment.

The attorneys seeking the documents represent Gregory Ford, an alleged victim of the Rev. Paul Shanley (search). The non-medical records of about 140 priests have already been turned over to Ford's lawyers.

Sweeney said the archdiocese must inform those priests they have 15 days to object to the release of the medical records. The judge has previously ordered the release of such documents involving other priests.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm represents some 250 alleged victims of priests, said he expects the roughly 1,300 pages of psychiatric documents would show how much clinical information the archdiocese had about abusive priests.

"These are among the most critical documents that we have been seeking, and we look forward to receiving them," MacLeish said.

Elsewhere Tuesday, former priest Michael Baker, 55, of Long Beach, Calif., pleaded innocent to five new charges alleging he molested an altar boy in the 1970s and '80s. In all, he faces 34 felony charges for alleged abuse of a man, now 35.