A judge yesterday chided the Archdiocese of Boston for the delay in turning over files on allegedly abusive priests, suggesting that she may consider sanctions if the church fails to provide documents to alleged victims who have filed civil suits.
”I don’t want to deal with punishment,” said Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney. ”But if I have to, I will. I want those cases handed over.”
In September, Sweeney had ordered the archdiocese to give lawyers for alleged sexual abuse victims records containing all ”credible claims” of sexual misconduct by 87 priests. Church lawyers appealed to the state Appeals Court and lost.
Yesterday, lawyers for the alleged victims charged that church lawyers had not turned over documents showing how the archdiocese responded to allegations of abuse against 62 of those priests. The church supplied only thin files on those priests, said attorney Roderick MacLeish.
”We want them produced now,” MacLeish said. ”They should have been produced a long time ago.”
Wilson D. Rogers III, an attorney representing the archdiocese, argued to Sweeney that her earlier order did not specifically instruct the church to turn over the documents MacLeish and other lawyers were seeking.
But the judge dismissed that argument, and gave the archdiocese until Nov. 22 to produce the documents. She also said she would start keeping track of any failures to turn over files. ”I’m at the point where I’m concerned enough and curious enough to see whether patterns have developed,” she said.
MacLeish also complained that some of the documents the church had turned over were illegible. Sweeney ordered lawyers for the church to provide legible copies when they are available.
After the hearing, MacLeish said Sweeney’s decision was significant and would help him prepare for trial. The cases are scheduled to be heard next year.
”It’s going to significantly advance our cases,” MacLeish said. ”These are very critical documents. That’s what these cases are about: Did the archdiocese protect kids?”
Lawyers for some of the alleged victims also asked Sweeney yesterday to continue to protect their clients’ identities in court papers by referring to them as ”John Doe” or ”Jane Doe.” Sweeney gave lawyers another week to submit more written arguments on the issue before she rules.
Meanwhile, J. Owen Todd, the attorney for Cardinal Bernard F. Law, said he told Sweeney in chambers yesterday that the Boston Archdiocese was prepared to file a civil lawsuit to determine whether insurance companies that covered the church during the past 40 years were liable for paying the more than 300 sexual abuse claims made against Boston-area priests.
The companies have balked over entering negotiations for a ”global settlement” of the claims, contending that the limits for many of the years had been depleted by prior settlements. The insurers also claim the archdiocese had been reckless in failing to remove priests from parish work when it knew they had abused children. Todd said last night that the suit would probably be filed in the next several days.