Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Church accused of hiding evidence



By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati was accused Tuesday of withholding documents that were supposed to have been turned over as part of an investigation into sexual abuse allegations.

Hamilton County prosecutors told an appeals court that church officials have made "misleading and inaccurate" statements about records they were ordered to share last year.

Prosecutors had requested the records during their investigation into sexual abuse allegations involving clergy. Church lawyers have argued that the records were protected by attorney-client privilege and should remain private.

The two sides compromised last year in Common Pleas court and agreed to allow a court-appointed "special master" to inspect all of the files to determine which should be given to prosecutors and which should not.

But in court briefs filed during the past week, prosecutors claim the church did not allow the special master, Glenn Whitaker, to see documents kept by the archdiocese's lawyers.

"Representations made by the archdiocese with respect to this matter are at best seriously misleading, and, in fact, appear to be outright false," Prosecutor Mike Allen said in a recent brief filed with the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals.

Allen did not say how many documents he thinks were withheld or why they may be important to his investigation of abuse allegations.

Church lawyers dispute the prosecution's claims. "Any suggestion along those lines is absolutely false," said Mark VanderLaan, one of the archdiocese's lawyers.

VanderLaan said he will not discuss details of the case publicly because the investigation has not been resolved.

Whitaker could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But in a prosecution brief, he states that he believes a "misunderstanding" is to blame for his failure to review the documents kept by church lawyers.

Whitaker said he thought the documents were duplicates of records he already had seen. "This understanding was apparently incorrect," Whitaker said in his statement.

Prosecutors, however, suggest that church officials knew the records were not duplicates and still failed to turn them over.

"A large number of the documents that were to have been reviewed by the special master were never seen by Mr. Whitaker," prosecutors told the appeals court.

The prosecutor's investigation - one of many nationwide - was launched last year after church officials disclosed that the archdiocese continues to employ four unidentified priests who have been accused of misconduct. Since then, four other priests have been suspended or taken leave because of misconduct allegations.

All of the allegations date back at least 10 years, and many are much older.

E-mail dhorn@enquirer.com




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