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Thursday, 01 December 2005 00:12

Files Detail Church"s Handling of Problem Priests

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Legal battle leads to records release in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- After nearly three years of legal wrangling, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has released information from the personnel files of 126 clergy accused of sexual abuse.

The confidential records show that for more than 75 years the nation's largest archdiocese shipped accused priests between therapy and new assignments, often ignoring parishioners' complaints.

And, in many cases, there was little mention of child molestation. Instead, euphemisms such as "boundary violations" were used to describe the conduct.

The documents were released late Tuesday as part of settlement talks with lawyers for more than 500 accusers in a civil lawsuit. The records, which summarize clergy personnel files, offer details in numerous cases, though much of the information has already been published in various forms.

One priest, who served as a teacher and administrator at numerous Southern California schools, was convicted of molesting two boys and given probation. The conviction was later expunged from his record.

A subsequent report was made in 1994 of "boundary violations," in which he allegedly patted the buttocks of a teenager. He entered alcohol treatment days later and was eventually placed on leave.

Another priest's file shows the archdiocese received repeated complaints that he engaged in "inappropriate sexual conduct with children" beginning in 1959, but that it did not appear to take significant action against him until 1994 when he was relieved of his duties, documents said.

The files show that in many cases the church provided years of therapy to some of the clergy. The archdiocese has posted nearly 150 pages of summaries from the clergy files on its Web site. Archdiocese of Los Angeles

Raymond P. Boucher, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said the newly released information was a first step but that complete personnel files, including letters of transfer and other confidential documents, should be made public.

"The significance of these files is that they provide a little more information for the public about the church's knowledge and frankly their participation in the molestation of children, but until the files are made public, we're not going to be satisfied," he said.

Archdiocese and plaintiff attorneys had agreed to release the information, but lawyers for the accused clergy succeeded in blocking publication, arguing it would violate their clients' privacy rights.

An appellate court ordered the documents released last month.

David Clohessy, who heads a victims' rights group, called the information release a "shrewd public relations effort," as civil cases against the clergy inch toward trial.

Archdiocese attorney J. Michael Hennigan said that in the early days of the accusations, church officials did not go to civil authorities because "parents of children who had been victims did not want their children famous for this. They did not want people talking about this."

Hennigan said that in many cases counseling was offered to clergymen accused of abuse. Those accused were generally removed from the ministry altogether as church officials' understanding of sexual abuse increased, he said.

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