Court says LA files must be turned over

Court says LA files must be turned over

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles suffered a major legal defeat this week. A judge ruled that the archdiocese cannot withhold personnel records from a grand jury. Mahony had claimed that communications between priests and bishops were confidential, like the priest/penitent privilege, and thus shouldn’t have to be turned over to investigators. The judge said that the subpoena of the documents doesn’t have the principal or primary effect of inhibiting the practice of religion.

I think that’s a good decision. Otherwise, the precedent we’d be setting is that it is vital to the practice of Christianity that bishops be able to cover up evidence of crimes. Actually the archdiocese’s legal argument was:

“The Archdiocese believes that the ability to have confidential communications between a priest and his bishop is central to the bishop’s ability to manage and to assist the priests in their spiritual lives.”

But the court said that the communications were not primarily of a spiritual nature and that “the efforts of the bishop to inquire into matters of sexual misconduct were no different from a typical employer investigating the misconduct of an employee.” In other words, there’s nothing specifically religious in that context. It also means that investigators don’t get a free hand in every personnel record, just in the documents that involve sexual misconduct.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli