Judge ponders allowing LA archdiocese to black out names of church leaders in priest files

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A judge is weighing whether to change an order that would allow the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to black out the names of church higher-ups — including recently retired Cardinal Roger Mahony — when it releases thousands of pages of personnel files on priests accused of child molestation.

Attorneys for the archdiocese say they plan to make the confidential files public by the middle of this month with the names of the church hierarchy blacked out, as allowed by a 2010 order by another judge who was appointed to oversee the process.

The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times intervened in the case in December and argued in court papers that the redactions will prevent the public from learning which church officials knew about abusive priests, how much they knew and how they handled it. Files released in other dioceses, such as Boston, have shown that the church shuffled priests among parishes without calling police.

The judge will hear oral arguments Monday and could issue a ruling.

More than 550 plaintiffs settled with the archdiocese in 2007 for a record-breaking $660 million, but the agreement also called for a process to vet personnel files for future release. The documents include letters and memos between top church officials and their attorneys, medical and psychological records, complaints from parents and, in some cases, correspondence with the Vatican about abusive priests.

More than 20 accused priests have held up the release in court for five years, arguing that making their files public would violate their privacy rights.

The priests have exhausted their legal appeals, however, and the documents are expected to come out within days or weeks.

Plaintiffs' attorney Ray Boucher also filed court papers last week outlining heavy redactions to three of the 72 files in question that he believes violate the scope of the previous judge's order.

The archdiocese said in court filings last week that any changes to the 2010 order on what can be blacked out will cause a significant delay in the release of the files. The church also argues that Judge Emilie Elias doesn't have the power to change the earlier decision.

At the time, Judge Dickran Tevrizian said members of the public could figure out which church leaders were responsible for how molesting priests were handled by matching the documents' date and location with a roster of the archdiocese staff at the time. He said the release of the files should not be used to "embarrass or to ridicule the church."

Elias has been reviewing two versions of the files — both redacted and unredacted — since Dec. 27 and could make her ruling as early as Monday, when she will hear oral arguments.


Associated Press Writer Gillian Flaccus contributed to this report.