Court orders release of diocese’s confidential priest files

Court orders release of diocese’s confidential priest files

A California judge has ordered the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to hand over insurance records and confidential files related to an accused sex-abuse priest who had served in the archdiocese before being transferred to California.

Superior Court Judge Peter D. Lichtman ordered the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to make public 3,000 pages of insurance records and hundreds of pages from the secret disciplinary files of Siegfried Widera.

Lichtman wrote that Widera’s files prove that “priests with known sexual proclivities have been handed off from location to another without regard to the potential harm to the children of the Church.”

The archdiocese had claimed that the documents were protected by third-party privacy rights, the First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause, and the “confidential business rights of the Archdiocese.”

Some plaintiffs’ lawyers think this sets a precedent for allowing plaintiffs access to confidential files held by dioceses. In the past they only had access to files specifically about the accused priests, but this will allow them to sift through the diocesan file cabinets seeking patterns to show how the dioceses handled allegations of abuse. However, other lawyers disagree that this would have a wide-ranging effect.

Attorney Donald Steier, who represents accused priests, said Lichtman’s order would not have a significant impact on other California cases. He said the order only applies to the files of priests who are dead and even then, only in cases in which the church has not sought protective orders during litigation.

Wideria had been convicted in Wisconsin in 1973 of sexual perversion and while serving probation was accused of abusing another 10-year-old boy. Despite his history, Milwaukee transferred Wideria to California in 1981. “He was facing 42 counts of child molestation in the two states when he died in 2003 after leaping from a hotel balcony in Mexico.”

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  • It is hard to believe that those who transferred such priests could have thought that method beneficial to the afflicted (whether mentally or spiritually) priest, in addition to ignoring the obvious threat their transfer posed to children and the Church itself. The “We didn’t know these disorders weren’t curable” excuse is boggling in that it would indicate that bishops and pastors did not consult one another about these issues in all that time. I mean if Bishop X has a “situation” with a prior abuser and so do Bishop Y and Z, wouldn’t you think they’d speak to one another and realize, collectively, that Psychology was wrong and these guys aren’t “recovered”? I’m scratching my head,here.

  • Hopefully this court action in California will be precedent setting for courts in states across the country. 

    Here is Wideria, a known and convicted sexual predator who may turn out to be one of the worst ones around.  He was passed from one parish to another, to another, to another….  It is incomprehensible. 

    The bishops knew and they conspired, colluded and covered up.  No question about it. 

    Perhaps, down the line, this will lead to some bishops and other “enablers” actually going to jail themselves.

    I hope and pray because the victims deserve better.

  • Well good for the courts. It is the only way to get the truth out. Like the Boston Globe, we own them much gratitude.

    Here in Milwaukee, we have the SAME group from Weakland’s time that continues the cover up. Archbishop Dolan doesn’t get it that the people in Milwaukee do NOT hold in esteem offcials who have mastered the “art of cover up.” Not only did they do that for the many priests who have done such horrible things to young people and adults, they all of course mastered that “art” to protect their former boss, Archbishop Weakland and his many sexual antics. Among the many examples, we have one priest here who has been arrested THREE times for soliciting sex and he continues to work. Then of course we could get into the archdiocesan sex ed program which would make the truck drivers who read this blog blush…and on and on it goes.

  • Margaret,

    I think what you are talking about the majority of our bishops would put into the “accountability” and “transparency” catagories. 

    They are still fighting about what records to make public, whether a priest, convicted of having, viewing, etc., etc., pornography on his computer, should really be put on the sex offenders’ list when he gets out.


  • What disturbs me about the release of such confidential files is that I don’t know the future ramifications of that decision. What else is in the files besides the relevant data, and how will the confidential information about accused priests (who are not ALL guilty) be protected? This almost begs for some sort of re-organization of data, so that information that may be pertinent in the case of a future accusation, which could happen to anybody, is not mixed with confidences that might make juicy news but have nothing to do with the accusation.