Insurers Seek Springfield, Mass. Church Documents on Sex Abuse

December 15, 2006

A judge is weighing whether to order the release of thousands of pages of Springfield (Mass.) Diocese documents in a dispute between the church and seven of its insurance carriers over settlements with clergy sex abuse victims.

The diocese sued the insurance companies to get them to cover the claims of 57 people who allege they were sexually abused by priests.

The insurers argued in Berkshire Superior Court this week that the 7,500 pages of documents will enable them to see how the diocese handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests and whether it fulfilled its obligation to protect the public.

Joseph C. Tanski, a lawyer for the Massachusetts Insurers Insolvency Fund, said the insurance companies have a right to some documents.

“The information we’re seeking bears on the issue of if the diocese reasonably expected harm would come from putting priests in particular positions,” he said. “If the bishop wants coverage, he has to disclose the information.”

But John J. Egan, a lawyer for the Roman Catholic diocese, said the documents are protected by spiritual counseling privilege and free exercise of religion laws.

Some documents involve people who have not filed claims and priests who are not named in any lawsuits, diocese lawyer Kevin D. Withers said.

“They’re simply not relevant in any way,” he said.

Mark A. Darling, a lawyer for Interstate Fire and Casualty Co., said the diocese has failed to show that the documents have anything to do with a spiritual counseling privilege.

Judge John A. Agostini took the matter under advisement and did not immediately issue a ruling.

The diocese settled claims from 46 other claimants for more than $7 million in 2004.

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Information from: The Springfield Republican,
http://www.masslive.com/republican/index.ssf

Topics Carriers Abuse Molestation Massachusetts Church

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