Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Public to see records on priests


Church opposed sharing molestation probe details

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A Hamilton County judge ordered the release Tuesday of sealed court records about Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse.

But confusion over the judge's order - and disagreement over which documents should be made public - might delay the release of any records for several days.

The records are part of an unprecedented grand jury investigation that for months has been reviewing allegations of sexual misconduct involving priests from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

All court records related to the investigation have remained secret since the grand jury began its work in July.

In his ruling Tuesday, however, Common Pleas Judge Fred Cartolano declared that the records should be made public unless they identify a witness who has testified before the grand jury.

Clerk of Courts Jim Cissell said he would follow the judge's order as soon as he figured out which documents should remain secret and which should be released to the public.

"We need some clarification," Mr. Cissell said.

He said he might have to wait several days to get that clarification because Judge Cartolano was unavailable after issuing his order Tuesday and is expected to be out of town through the Thanksgiving weekend.

Prosecutors and lawyers for the archdiocese would not discuss the documents in question, although the two sides have bickered for months about how much material from the archdiocese prosecutors are entitled to see.

"I think it can be worked out," church lawyer Mark VanderLaan said of the confusion about the judge's order. "I think it requires some interpretation."

Earlier this year, prosecutors insisted they should get any record related to possible crimes. But the archdiocese has argued that some church records should be held back because they might reveal the names of innocent priests or victims who have been promised confidentiality.

Both sides have said the investigation involves allegations that date back years and, in some cases, decades.

Although grand jury proceedings are secret, the two sides also have disagreed about whether some of the court records related to the case should be made public.

In August, prosecutors formally asked the judge to release most of the court records. Based on his ruling Tuesday, Judge Cartolano apparently agreed that many of the records should be open.

It's unclear whether those records will shed light on the work of investigators or potential targets of the grand jury probe.

The grand jury's job is to review evidence and hear testimony about the allegations. Ultimately, the grand jury will determine whether criminal charges should be filed against anyone.

Prosecutors first began investigating the abuse allegations this spring, when Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk announced that the archdiocese continues to employ four unnamed priests who have been accused of abuse.

Four other priests have since been suspended or taken leave because of misconduct allegations.

E-mail dhorn@enquirer.com




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