Thousands of pages of previously confidential records related to Franciscan clergymen accused of child sexual abuse have been posted online, three years after a Los Angeles judge ordered the documents released.
Posted by Boston-based BishopAccountability.org, the records were produced by the Franciscan Friars of California as part of a 2006 settlement of civil litigation brought by 25 Santa Barbara abuse victims. The Roman Catholic order also paid $28 million to the victims.
The records include personnel files of nine admitted or confirmed molesters, all Franciscan priests and brothers, as well as transcripts of depositions of supervisors, sex abuse survivors and others, the organization said in a news release.
Much of the abuse occurred at St. Anthony's Seminary, which closed in 1987, and at Old Mission Santa Barbara. The abusers were accused in lawsuits of molesting children, mostly boys, from the 1950s until the early 1990s.
"This is a victory for all of the brave men and women — terribly abused as little boys and little girls — who have forced this historic disclosure," Bob Eckert, one of the abuse victims and a party to the lawsuit that led to the records' publication, said in the news release. Eckert's abuser was Robert Van Handel, a priest who who was convicted of child molestation and sentenced in 1994 to eight years in prison.
In April 2009, Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman ordered the files released, overruling most objections by attorneys for the order and the alleged molesters. They had argued, among other things, that many documents should remain private due to therapist-patient privilege and constitutional issues.
The Franciscans appealed the judge's order, which ultimately was affirmed by the California Supreme Court. The legal battle was followed by wrangling between lawyers for both sides over the redaction of some names and other information in the files.
"Bob and his fellow survivors fought to make these records public to protect children and warn parents in the towns where the abusers are now living," said Timothy Hale, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers. "We are trying to reverse the harm caused by decades of refusal by the Franciscan hierarchy to report these men to law enforcement."