Sexual abuse

Archdiocese to cooperate with judge’s order to open personnel files

.- The Archdiocese of Milwaukee will cooperate with a judge’s order to release 3,000 pages of insurance records and confidential files related to a priest who had been convicted of molestation.

The Wheeler news service reported yesterday that the archdiocese will go along with the courts decision and release the files related to Fr. Sigfried Widera.

Fr. Widera was convicted in Wisconsin in 1973 of sexual perversion. However, the archdiocese transferred him to California in 1981. He was facing 42 counts of child molestation in the two states when he leapt to his death from a hotel balcony in Mexico in 2003.

According to the Associated Press, Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman wrote in his 59-page ruling that the files on Fr. Widera prove that “priests with known sexual proclivities have been handed off from location to another without regard to the potential harm to the children of the Church.”

The judge struck down the archdiocese’s arguments for keeping the documents private, including claims that the records were protected by third-party privacy rights, the First Amendment and the confidential business rights of the archdiocese.

The ruling sets a precedent for the release of confidential files of other priests, attorney Raymond Boucher told the AP.

Attorney Donald Steier, who represents accused priests, disagrees. He said the order only applies to the files of priests who are dead and only in cases in which a diocese has not sought protective orders during litigation.

“Apparently, Milwaukee turned all these files over during the litigation phase without protective orders,” Steier was quoted as saying.

Last year, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee agreed to pay eight California victims $13.3 million, in addition to nearly $15 million they received in 2004 from the Diocese of Orange, in California. Fr. Widera’s files from California were already made public.

The archdiocesan spokeswoman, Kathleen Hohl, refused to speak to the Wheeling News Service about the ruling, but said the documents would not be released for at least 30 days.

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