Diocese asks judge to keep info secret

Monday, August 18, 2003


Diocese asks judge to keep info secret

Virginia de Leon
Staff writer

Attorneys for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane are asking a judge to issue an order that would keep secret pre-trial information from two clergy sexual-abuse lawsuits.

Diocese lawyers Greg Arpin and Mike Geraghty filed for a protective order last week in two cases against the diocese and Patrick O'Donnell, a priest removed from ministry in 1986. The lawsuits are on behalf of 20 alleged victims and the widow of one who committed suicide last summer.

If approved by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno, the motion would prevent any ‘‘sensitive and potentially confidential information” -- including financial records, depositions and other documents -- from being published or made available to the public.

‘‘The diocese now seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth,” said Tim Kosnoff, one of the attorneys representing the victims.

Bishop William Skylstad and others in the diocese have pledged to be open and transparent to the public, Kosnoff said, but ‘‘now, they're instructing their lawyers to do the opposite -- to gag the parties from speaking and revealing information.”

The protective order wouldn't prevent Kosnoff and the plaintiffs from accessing information during the pretrial discovery process, but they would not be allowed to speak to or provide documents to the media.

In its motion for a protective order, attorneys for the diocese are arguing that the same privileges that have

been extended to victims should also be available to the diocese.

Although some victims have openly discussed their abuse, all but one of the plaintiffs in the suits -- Michael Corrigan -- have been identified only by their initials. The diocese also has complied with victims' request to keep counseling, medical and other sensitive information confidential, said Geraghty.

‘‘We agree with the confidentiality for the plaintiffs -- we don't want to see them revictimized,” he said. ‘‘We just want it to be reciprocal.”

Geraghty said the diocese simply wants to protect the privacy of individuals who aren't directly involved in the case. Some of the information requested has nothing to do with the sex abuse issue, he said.

Information acquired during the pretrial discovery process also could taint the prospective jury pool since the information would be published and broadcasted by the media, he said.

Dick Eymann and John Allison -- two attorneys representing ‘‘John and Jane Doe” in a third lawsuit against the diocese and O'Donnell -- have agreed to the diocese's request for a protective order, Geraghty said.

The diocese also volunteered to provide the media with its responses to the plaintiffs' interrogatories last fall, Geraghty added. ‘‘We are being open,” he said.

But the diocese's request for confidentiality is not on par with the victims' need to keep certain information private, Kosnoff said. The victims' names and the sordid details of their abuse are not important to most people, Kosnoff

said. What the public wants to know is how ‘‘the diocese has covered up and transferred known pedophiles and how it has endangered children and risked public safety.”

Protective orders have been filed by other dioceses throughout the country, including Boston. The Boston Globe, however, sought and gained public disclosure of court records relating to clergy abuse cases. The newspaper's investigation revealed the Boston Archdiocese's systemic cover-up, which led to widespread awareness of the problem that has plagued the church.

A hearing for the Spokane Diocese's motion is scheduled for Sept. 12 at 1:30 p.m.

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