Plaintiffs suing the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville have won access to church personnel files and other documents on any priest accused of sexual abuse during the past five decades.
William McMurry, a lawyer representing most of the plaintiffs, had subpoenaed the files as evidence of what he contended was the archdiocese’s “pattern and common scheme to wantonly endanger” children.
More than 200 people have pending lawsuits against the archdiocese, alleging that it covered up cases of sexual abuse by 27 priests and six other people associated with the church.
The judge rejected the archdiocese’s argument that an order to turn over the documents would violate First Amendment protection of freedom of religion.
The ruling Wednesday by Jefferson County Circuit Judge James Shake said the church does not have to turn over any documents relating to abuse before 1954, nor does it have to provide records on any priest who may have had a consensual, noncriminal sexual relationship with an adult.
Shake said the church did not have to disclose amounts it has paid to three plaintiffs who settled lawsuits out of court against the archdiocese in January.
The files that must be turned over include the priests’ personnel records and any documents kept in a secret archive reserved for “sensitive or scandalous” information under a church law known as Canon 489.
McMurry said the judge’s ruling is significant because it applies to documents on any priest accused of sexual abuse, not just the 27 priests named in suits.
“That’s very important to connect the dots over the last 50 years,” he said.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Cecelia Price said she could not comment because church officials had not had an opportunity to review the ruling with their attorneys.
Shake turned down McMurry’s request to find out how much the archdiocese paid to settle three lawsuits in January with plaintiffs alleging sexual abuse by the Rev. Louis E. Miller, who is accused in dozens of suits.
Shake sided with the archdiocese and the lawyer for those plaintiffs, Joseph L. White, saying the dollar amounts were irrelevant and that revealing them would violate the plaintiffs’ privacy.
Shake has previously ordered the archdiocese to turn over documents regarding settlements up to last year.
Those documents indicate that the archdiocese and individual priests paid almost $640,000 over the past 20 years to settle 12 claims of abuse.
Shake said the church did not need to look through documents from before 1954 in a “fruitless search for information of only marginal relevance.”