The United States Supreme Court on Monday rejected a request by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport to delay the court-ordered release of thousands of legal documents from lawsuits filed against priests accused of child sex abuse.
The decision leaves few options for the diocese after a seven-year tug-of-war with four newspapers, including The New York Times, over the release of more than 12,000 pages of depositions and church records.
The diocese still has another request before the court, asking the justices to hear arguments that release of the records would violate the First Amendment rights accorded to religious groups. But such a hearing appears unlikely after the court’s refusal on Monday, in a single-sentence ruling, to stay a lower-court order that the records be unsealed.
A spokesman for the Bridgeport Diocese said in a statement: “We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to extend the stay. For more than a decade, the Catholic Church in Bridgeport has addressed the issue of clergy sexual abuse compassionately and comprehensively. For now, however, the serious threat to the First Amendment rights of all churches and the rightful privacy of all litigants remain in jeopardy because of the decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court. This, indeed, is regrettable."
The records were obtained by plaintiffs in 23 lawsuits filed against the diocese and seven of its priests in the 1990s, during the tenure of Bishop Edward M. Egan, who was later named the archbishop of New York. They were sealed in 2001 after the diocese reached settlements with the plaintiffs, former altar boys and youth group members who said they were molested by priests in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s.