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Judge Orders Church To Release Records

Nov 17, 2002 | AP

A Chittenden Superior Court judge has ordered the statewide Roman Catholic Diocese to release 50 years worth of records about priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Judge Matthew Katz said records back to 1950 regarding any priest living or dead accused of misconduct should be turned over to a lawyer suing a Rutland priest.

The only records that will automatically be released publicly are those related specifically to that priest, although a similar court order in the Boston diocese led to a series of allegations that forced Cardinal Bernard Law to resign last week.

Lawyer Jerry O'Neill sought the Vermont records as he pursues a civil case which he accuses the Rev. James McShane of abusing an altar boy in a St. Albans church.

Mike Bernier, 45, is suing both McShane and the Catholic diocese.

O'Neill says the church's records could help to prove his case against both the diocese and McShane. But church officials argued against the release, saying that McShane's personnel records already had been offered as part of the case.

Now that the judge has ruled, the diocesan lawyers say O'Neill and his client will work out a timetable for access to the records.

Even as that civil case is making its way through the courts, prosecutors in the attorney general's office are sifting through many of the same records looking into whether any living priests have been accused of abuse but never been brought to justice.

The attorney general's office at first was focusing on just six priests, but that number now has grown to as many as 40, although not all are currently active priests.

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