Six years ago, Irwin Zalkin was preparing to serve as a lead trial attorney in a 14-victim clergy sex abuse case against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Just before trial, a group of 562 victims of clergy abuse (including the 14 plaintiffs in our case and others represented by The Zalkin Law Firm) reached a historic, $660 million global settlement with the archdiocese. That settlement provided benefits to victims of clergy abuse and the general public that went beyond monetary compensation, and last week it paid dividends with the ordered release of some 30,000 pages of unredacted archdiocese files.
Most of us have a general sense that the Catholic Church has engaged in a systematic cover up of its child sexual abuse epidemic; most of us do not know, however, just how far it went to do so. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. And therefore, the 2007 settlement called for the church to release a vast array of memos, correspondence, psychiatric reports, and other documents relating to its handling of sex abuse claims.
The Catholic tragedy is one that deserves deeper understanding than the simple knowledge that children were hurt and the Church covered it up. People need to know the lengths Church officials went to in protecting their own while ignoring, and worse, rejecting the cries of children and their families. And that’s why the Zalkin Law Firm is proud to have been deeply involved in the fight for the release of these and other documents withheld by the LA Archdiocese and the San Diego Diocese.
After years of legal delays, last week Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias issued an historic ruling that marks a sweeping victory for victims and other concerned members of the public. The order compels the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to release almost 30,000 pages of documents detailing the breadth and depth of the Catholic Church’s actions to cover up the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by members of its clergy.
From our experience in this and other litigation, we can attest to the heartbreaking details these records reveal. Details such as Church officials knowingly placing child rapists in positions where they would have unfettered access to children, then moving them to new positions with access to more and different children. Or Church officials instructing that files should be locked away, or even destroyed, to keep them from law enforcement and victims’ lawyers.
A mediator had previously ruled that the names of church leaders and priests who faced single allegations of abuse could be redacted from the files. But objections filed by the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press which demonstrate the great public interest in the withheld information prevailed, and Judge Emilie Elias ordered the records to be produced in unredacted form. Among many other reasons for the ruling, Judge Elias noted that parishioners who discover allegations of abuse in their own churches through these documents may want to talk to their children about their experiences.
These documents help fill in the blanks in one of the most unfortunate yet compelling stories of our time. And the public must continue to demand whether from the Roman Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, Penn State University or any other institution full transparency to ensure the atrocities of the past will never happen again. With the 2007 global settlement calling for the release of these documents, and Judge Elias’s important ruling on its requirements, we have taken another important step in the right direction.