The Archdiocese of Boston must hand over internal records of 85 priests facing sex-abuse allegations, a judge ruled Wednesday, rejecting a church request for more time to gather tens of thousands of documents.
Appeals Court Justice Kenneth Laurence ruled the same day church officials appealed a 3-week-old order to produce the documents in a civil case against retired priest Paul Shanley and the archdiocese.
J. Owen Todd, Cardinal Bernard Law’s attorney, said the archdiocese will comply with the order. Roderick MacLeish, attorney for Shanley’s alleged victims, asked church officials to hand over the documents by noon Thursday, but Todd said that would be impossible.
“There are 25,000 documents that have to be examined,” Todd said. “I don’t think that even Mr. MacLeish believes we can meet this deadline.”
Wednesday’s ruling came a day after Superior Court Justice Constance Sweeney chided church officials for stalling in the case. She said the archdiocese has fallen into a pattern of delaying production of documents until well past court-ordered deadlines.
Archdiocese lawyers said they are cooperating but added that plaintiffs’ attorneys are asking them to perform “superhuman” tasks.
MacLeish said the archdiocese should hire more lawyers if it can’t keep up with court orders. “We’re working every day, too,” he said. “We’re not taking any vacations.”
Plaintiffs hope to use the records to show the archdiocese had a pattern of moving priests accused of sexual abuse from parish to parish. Shanley is in jail awaiting trial on child rape charges.
MacLeish said the archdiocese has already given the same documents to the attorney general, and that the church has told him it did not make copies of the records. When asked whether that was the case, archdiocese lawyers declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, Beth Stone, said the state has received documents from the archdiocese, but would not say whether it had personnel files on all 85 priests.
Also Wednesday, Law finished answering questions in pretrial testimony for the Shanley case. His deposition took six days, spread out over months.