Cardinal Roger M. Mahony's lawyer told a state appellate court Thursday that the church should be allowed to release summaries of the personnel files of more than 100 Roman Catholic priests accused of molesting children.
But an attorney for several accused priests, Donald Steier, argued that making the summaries public would violate the individual clerics' privacy rights, as well as the confidentiality of mediation talks underway to settle 544 claims that the archdiocese failed to protect parishioners from predators.
The summaries would identify accused priests, but not the church officials who critics say transferred or referred the priests for treatment without warning parishioners.
In an unusual twist, Raymond P. Boucher, the lawyer for the alleged victims, joined with church attorney J. Michael Hennigan in urging the release of the summaries. Hennigan argued they would help settle the 3-year-old legal claims.
When asked by the court why the cases couldn't be settled with a check, Boucher said, "The only way this case gets settled is with transparency."
Steier, who represents 26 of the more than 100 accused priests, insisted church officials "are absolutely prohibited from making them public," not only to protect the priests' privacy, but to shield confidential communications between attorneys and psychotherapists and their clients.
The California Supreme Court stopped the release of the documents, also known as proffers, in April and ordered the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles to review the matter.
The sexual abuse litigation has been in mediation since December 2002. In court, the three judges focused on whether summaries created as part of a court mediation can be made public. Under state law, all documents produced in mediation are confidential.
Despite his support for release of the proffers, Boucher said he would continue to press to make the Los Angeles Archdiocese's original files public. The lawyer told the court he had been prepared to walk away late last year from a $100-million settlement with the Orange Diocese if the church refused to open its confidential priest files.
Hennigan asked the justices, if they barred release of the proffers, to come up with another way for the church to make the information available.
The appellate court must decide the case within 90 days.