.- The Diocese of Bridgeport has been ordered to release thousands of documents connected to several sexual abuse cases settled in 2001 after their appeal was refused by the U.S. Supreme court.
A judge in the Waterbury Superior Court has ordered that the diocese release the papers, once thought to be sealed permanently, the Associated Press reports. The documents pertain to 23 lawsuits which were filed between 1993 and 1999 regarding the actions of six priests in the 1960's and 1970's.
According to the diocesan website, “of the seven priests associated with these cases, five were removed and banned from ministry, one was deceased at the time the allegation was brought forward, and the case against the seventh priest was unsubstantiated. He remains in ministry today.”
The lawsuits were resolved in 2001.
In their statement released today, the diocese made known that they have complied with the court order and noted that all of the documents which have been released “were available at pretrial activity during the 1990's.” The documents “were shared with the victims through their attorneys leading up to the settlement of these cases.”
The diocese also emphasized that “between 1993 and 2002, more than 200 media reports were published about these cases. In fact, after obtaining copies of the sealed documents from an unidentified source and notwithstanding the court orders, the Hartford Courant published two lengthy articles on March 17, 2002, which selectively summarized the contents of the documents.”
“Over the past decade, the Diocese of Bridgeport – and, indeed, the Catholic Church throughout the United States – has brought about a significant culture change regarding the knowledge of and ability to deal with sexual abuse. The Diocese has worked and will continue to work diligently and transparently to address the issue of sexual abuse in order to prevent this tragedy from happening again," the statement said.
The diocesan site also noted that in this court battle, referred to as “The New York Times Case,” several major newspapers, including the Hartford Courant and the New York Times, are seeking access to the documents in an effort to discover how the cases were handled by the recently retired Cardinal Edward Egan of New York when he was Bishop of Bridgeport.
The documents were sealed at the resolution of the lawsuits in 2001. However, the diocese charges that a Connecticut superior court judge changed the rules “mid stream” and allowed the newspapers to sue for access to the pre-trial documents.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruling, which rejected an appellate court ruling that the diocese was not obligated to reopen the files, was stayed pending the U.S. Supreme Court Case. It is now in effect and the Diocese of Bridgeport has delivered CD-ROMs containing copies of the requested documents to the Waterbury Superior Court and to the attorneys of the newspapers who initiated the lawsuit.