Ore. Archdiocese Turns Over Records on Priests

June 24, 2005

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Portland has turned over 97 boxes of records on priests accused of molesting children after promising last November to provide the documents to insurance companies seeking to reduce potential settlement costs.

The 10 insurers hope to use the files to show church officials knew about the sex-abuse allegations against 37 priests but ignored them, which could invalidate liability insurance policies. Otherwise, the insurers may have to pay settlements and legal fees that could exceed $16 million.

A Portland-based lawyer for the insurers, Joseph A. Field, complained to church lawyers that they had “dumped'”some 200,000 pages of documents “in an unreasonable and unusable form.”

Field said the church told the company that scans the documents into electronic form to block insurers from original source files or file labels, leaving them unable to sort the files or take inventory.

“I wouldn’t say we dumped them,” archdiocese spokesman Bud Bunce said Tuesday. “I’d say we gave them what they wanted.”

Bunce said the archdiocese has since agreed to provide the source labels. The documents were sent to be scanned and the computer discs handed over.

The Portland archdiocese was the first of three to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the face of 249 sex abuse claims totaling millions of dollars.

Two months after filing for protection last July the archdiocese sued 10 insurers, claiming they had abandoned their responsibility.

The insurers have sued the archdiocese, contending it hid the abuse from the companies, invalidating the policies. They contend the archdiocese had a standing practice over five decades of sheltering priests accused of child sex abuse.

The insurance companies sought the files as they proceeded with “discovery,” the legal term for gathering evidence in a lawsuit.

The archdiocese lawyer handling insurance litigation initially agreed last November to deliver the data.

In January, the insurers filed an official request for the archdiocese to produce personnel files and other documents related to the 37 priests.

Two months later, the archdiocese produced 12 pages of objections and no documents or names of the priests. The archdiocese claimed the documents were irrelevant, and cited constitutional protection for religion under the First Amendment, privacy rights, attorney-client privilege, clergy-penitent privilege, ambiguous language and a burdensome workload.

Michael Prough, a lawyer for one of the insurers, responded in a 15-page letter dated April 25 that the archdiocese response was without merit.

Insurers intend to argue next Tuesday before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris that the archdiocese may still be withholding documents on 25 of the priests, a claim Bunce denies.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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