BOSTON -- In a pointed rebuke to Catholic Church officials here, a judge on Monday ordered the Boston archdiocese to release 11,000 previously classified documents pertaining to 65 priests charged with molesting children over a 30-year period.
A separate ruling Monday by Judge Constance Sweeney requires the archdiocese to turn over psychiatric records of a priest linked to the case of retired priest Paul Shanley, whose trial on multiple counts of child rape is set to begin early next year.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer for dozens of alleged clerical-abuse victims here, hailed the decisions as "a huge victory for us, the most significant rulings that have been handed down in any church abuse case in Massachusetts in terms of potential liability for the archdiocese and for Cardinal Bernard Law."
Yielding to an earlier court order, the archdiocese delivered the documents late Friday to lawyers for the alleged victims. A request from church lawyers that the documents be sealed from public view until at least January brought sharp criticism from Sweeney.
"While the defendants have seemingly produced the documents to opposing counsel at the last minute and under a warning of sanctions and contempt, they still resist public disclosure of those documents," the judge said.
"If the tone of this endorsement is harsh," she continued, "so be it. The court simply will not be toyed with."
Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, did not return a call Monday for a comment on the latest turn in a scandal that has churned in Boston and across the United States for close to a year.
But MacLeish, in an interview late Monday, said Sweeney's action contained language to support the contention of alleged victims that the archdiocese routinely made administrative decisions in favor of priests rather than protecting children.
The disputed records, Sweeney wrote, "raise significant questions of whether the archdiocese was really exercising the care (toward children) they claimed to use in assigning offending priests."
MacLeish and other lawyers had sought the documents on behalf of a client who says he was repeatedly raped by Shanley, a popular figure in Boston for many years. Despite accusations of sexual abuse against Shanley, a letter from the Boston archdiocese recommended him as a priest "in good standing" when Shanley transferred to Southern California in the early 1990s.
Dubbing Monday's rulings "a big setback to the archdiocese," MacLeish said he expected to make the documents public as early as next week.
In ordering the church to turn over the psychiatric records of the Rev. Paul Lane, Sweeney faulted the archdiocese for permitting Lane to celebrate Mass after church psychiatric evaluations showed he had a history of molesting boys.
Sweeney's rulings came as more than two dozen lawyers representing hundreds of alleged victims met here Monday.
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