(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF among last Catholic diocese in state to withhold names of accused clergy

Los Angeles lawsuit could force church to release documents on priests

A lawsuit that would force the Archdiocese of San Francisco to release the names of clergy accused of sexual misconduct was allowed to proceed last month.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco is among 11 diocese across the state that, along with the California Catholic Conference (CCC), are named in the lawsuit that could force church officials to release the names of alleged abusers and provide documents on clerical offenders. The lawsuit alleges that these documents are kept in the dioceses’ possession, concealed from the public.

While most of the state’s diocese have made public their lists of names, San Francisco is one of two that has not done so.

Diocese officials had previously said they would produce a list last November, but on Tuesday, a spokesperson said that an “independent analysis of over 4,000 files is not yet complete,” and that San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone “will communicate results when it is completed” — potentially by this summer.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking to force the church to release a list of names, plaintiff Tom Emens alleges that he was sexually abused by his priest, Monsignor Thomas Joseph Mohan, at age 11, and that church officials continue to conceal and fail to report systematic abuse.

In an April 17 ruling, Judge Michelle Williams dismissed part of the lawsuit filed last October, which alleges civil conspiracy, public and private nuisance, but left some of the claims open to further proceedings.

Emens is not seeking financial compensation, but is pushing for the release of names and concealed documents relating to the sexual abuse of minors.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the public. It’s about the safety of our children,” said Emens at a press conference held in Burbank, Calif. on Monday. “We have to be cautiously optimistic but [the ruling] is a victory.”

Per her ruling, Williams determined that “there is no right to conceal sexual assaults from authorities,” and that protecting abusers from criminal prosecution is “neither free speech nor petition.”

Williams also ruled that “making affirmative representations of the fitness of priests for assignments which included working with children while concealing information regarding the sexual misconduct of those priests is not an issue of free speech, but an issue of false speech.”

Steve Greene, CCC general counsel, said in a statement that he is “not sure how this [ruling] is a victory.”

“The original complaint had eight causes of action; five of those were struck down by court and the fate of the remaining three is uncertain. We’ll know where things truly stand after our next hearing,” said Greene, who indicated that the CCC plans to appeal the ruling.

But Mike Reck, an attorney with Jeff Anderson & Associates who is representing Emens, said the ruling is unprecedented and could have “huge implications” for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

“It’s the first time ever in California that a lawsuit against the dioceses has gotten to this point,” said Reck, adding that Williams “made a direct finding that it is not free or protected speech to protect child sex abusers from law enforcement, help them avoid prosecution and to make affirmative misrepresenations about child sex abuse.”

Reck added the ruling came despite efforts by the defendants to have the case dismissed.

“The threshold question was, ‘Are churches protected, able to lie and hide just because they are such?’” said Reck. “Traditionally, the argument made by the church hierarchy [was] that their documents are not something that the public has a right to see.”

Last week’s ruling on Emens’ complaint ordered “all of the defendants…to answer the lawsuit,” said Reck, which he expects to take place in May.

A federal lawsuit filed in San Francisco in October accuses the Vatican of actively covering up sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and also aims to uncover the names and files of some 3,400 perpetrators.

That lawsuit came on the heels of the release of a report by the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates implicating more than 200 Bay Area priests in allegations of sexual misconduct in recent decades, including 135 priests connected to the Archdiocese of San Francisco

In Novemeber, Cordileone announced that a preliminary review of personnel files dating back to the 1950s revealed that six instances of alleged sex abuse of minors by clergy were reported in the 1990s and three in the year 2000.

Also in November, the San Francisco Examiner reported the Archdiocese of San Francisco has settled roughly $87 million worth of sex abuse cases against priests and others associated with the church, mostly in the last 15 years.

On Tuesday, the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Sacramento released its list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse, totalling 46 names. Along with San Francisco, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno has yet to release its list.

Reck said that he believes the ruling will put “pressure” on the remaining dioceses.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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