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Connecticut court unseals priest abuse documents

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  1. Court Access
In a ruling due to be formally published this week, the Connecticut Supreme Court has found that documents filed in more than…

In a ruling due to be formally published this week, the Connecticut Supreme Court has found that documents filed in more than two dozen civil lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport should be unsealed.

The lawsuits, which alleged sexual abuse, were brought against the diocese and six priests in the mid-1990s. The judge then handling the case sealed documents that he felt could jeopardize the defendants’ right to a fair trial, until a jury had been selected. But the cases all settled in 2001 without going to trial.

In 2002 The New York Times sought to intervene and have the records unsealed. The Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and The Washington Post all joined the case later. The newspapers’ request made its way up to the Connecticut Supreme Court once before, but was sent back down for further proceedings. In 2006, the trial court ruled that the documents should be released. The reasoning went that the basis for sealing them — to protect the defendants’ right to a fair trial — had expired and the church had not raised a strong argument for keeping them under seal.

The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld that analysis in Rosado v. Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corp., a 4-1 decision. The court also announced that to determine whether a document is a "judicial document," and thus presumed to be available to the public, it would examine whether a court reasonably could rely on it as part of its "adjudicatory function," which would be broadly defined.

The ruling takes effect Tuesday, when the opinion is published in the Connecticut Law Journal, the Catholic News Service reports.  The court’s decision would cause the release of more than 12,600 pages of documents, according to the news service.