The U.S. Supreme Court has denied an appeal by the Diocese of Bridgeport to keep the personnel files of some of its employees sealed off from several major newspapers investigating the diocese’s handling of sexual abuse accusations. The diocese contends that the papers already had access to the files and that re-opening them would reveal private information not related to the abuse cases.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notified attorneys in the case of her decision on late Tuesday, the Hartford Courant reports.
The material includes 12,600 pages of depositions, exhibits and legal arguments involving 23 lawsuits against seven priests from the Diocese of Bridgeport. Most of the lawsuits were filed in the mid-1990s and were settled in 2001 for an undisclosed amount with the agreement that the settlements and the documents would remain sealed forever.
In a Tuesday statement the Diocese of Bridgeport said it was “disappointed” that Justice Ginsberg declined to issue a stay in the case, named as “Rosado v. Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp. et al.”
“The Diocese intends to proceed with its announced determination to ask the full U.S. Supreme Court to review the important constitutional issues that this case presents,” the statement continued.
Several newspapers, including the Hartford Courant and the New York Times, have sought access to the personnel files to determine how the recently retired Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, handled sexual abuse cases while he was Bishop of Bridgeport.
In 2002 the Courant published stories reportedly based on the sealed court documents charging that Cardinal Eagan and other diocese officials ignored accusations of abuse or protected abusive priests.
The diocese has maintained that access to the files should not be granted because doing so would reveal personal information that is not relevant to the sex abuse cases.
Additionally, diocesan officials have said that the files related to sex abuse allegations were available prior to the 2001 settlement, after which the files were sealed by the deciding court.
In a July statement the diocese said that some of the material involves “long settled” cases dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, and that the attorneys and victims had access to the sealed documents in question previously. It also said that the names of accused priests were made public in 2002 by present bishop William E. Lori.
The Diocese of Bridgeport has also argued that First Amendment rights are at issue, claiming the freedom from state intervention in church matters is at risk.
The Connecticut Supreme Court has twice ruled against the diocese. An appeal to the full U.S. Supreme Court, which hears only a small number of petitions each year, is the diocese’s last resort.