Court: Make records public in friars' sex cases

October 10, 2010

Los Angeles - A California appeals court ruled Thursday that psychiatric and other confidential records of Franciscan friars accused of sex abuse should be made public.

The ruling from the 2nd District Court of Appeal is significant for clergy abuse victims who have been fighting for the public disclosure of records that the Roman Catholic church kept of abusive clergy.

The ruling arose from lawsuits filed against the Franciscan Friars of California Inc. by 25 plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse at the hands of friars.

Those plaintiffs settled for $28 million in 2006, but the settlement agreement also sought the release of records on six of the friars.

The trial judge found the social interests of protecting children from molestation outweighed the privacy rights of the friars, who then appealed the decision to make their psychiatric, medical and other records public.

An attorney representing the friars said Thursday's ruling robs the church - or any other organization dealing with children - of a way to find out if abuse is taking place without threatening the suspected abuser.

Priests or other employees who are molesting children may no longer discuss their crimes with a therapist or doctor because those records could now be made public, said Robert Howie, who represents the individual friars.

"Discovery of this type of behavior is aided by the use of these confidential inquiries and psychotherapy, and that's been basically gutted by the appellate court here," he said.

"I appreciate the fact that these past victims want their retribution. What I think the court is doing is focusing on that anger and that desire for retribution."

Howie said it was too early to say if the friars would petition to have the case heard by the state's high court.

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