A federal judge said Monday the public has a right to view versions of sensitive records in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane bankruptcy case.
The Spokesman-Review asked U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Patricia Williams to allow the newspaper and other members of the public to review and track the cases of some 175 people who allege they were sexually abused by priests and other clergy.
The newspaper did not seek the disclosure of victims’ names, but rather other pertinent information such as the allegations, the clergy involved, the alleged dates of abuse, the location and the age and gender of victims.
Though the judge said the newspaper needed to file a separate request to gain access to the actual claims, which already have been sealed in the Chapter 11 case, she said corresponding information such as objections and responses – also minus victims’ names – should not be sealed from the public.
The diocese will be asked to delete the names of victims before those records are released.
Diocese attorney Greg Arpin wanted all such filings sealed from the media and general public for fear that priests wrongly accused would be defamed by having their names broadcast or published.
Names of clergy are divulged now only after a diocese review board determines that the priest was credibly accused. This diocese apparatus does not satisfy The Spokesman-Review’s duty to independently seek and report on issues of public concern and safety, editors said.
The newspaper argued that courts don’t normally allow for the protection of the identities of the accused and said the court system allows for open records to instill public confidence.