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Diocese To Surrender Papers To Grand Jury

Feb 11, 2003 | The Arizona Republic

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix decided Monday against continuing a court battle and agreed to surrender nearly 2,300 documents to a grand jury investigating allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Lawyers for the diocese claimed the documents were protected by client-attorney privilege, but both a Maricopa County judge and the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected those arguments.

The diocese could have appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

"We are not going to appeal," said Jim Belanger, attorney for the diocese. "I think it's clear we were asserting our legitimate rights to client-attorney privilege.

"We don't agree with the ruling, but we've had our hearing and we will move ahead."

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley, in Washington, D.C., for a strategy session about drug issues, said he was pleased with the diocese's decision.

"This is a positive step," Romley said. "Hopefully, we can work through all the other issues that are pending."

Romley and the diocese have been at odds for months about the level of cooperation being given to the grand jury.

The church says it is cooperating fully and withholding only documents that should be protected by client-attorney privilege. Romley accuses the diocese of stalling, in part because the current grand jury is set to expire Feb. 28.

The grand jury has returned two indictments against priests for sexual misconduct that occurred decades ago.

Charges against one priest were dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. The other priest agreed in a plea deal to testify about how the church handled abuse cases.

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