In the Matter of Roman Catholic Archbishop

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 09-21-2011
  • Case #: 10-35206
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Ikuta for the Court; Chief Judge Kozinski and Circuit Judge Bea
  • Full Text Opinion

Public safety concerns can mandate that private information of a priest, not party to the lawsuit, may be released to the public, but “scandalous” portions must be redacted.

Multiple civil lawsuits were filed by parishioners against the Portland Archdiocese (“Church”) for sex abuse of children by clergy members. The Church filed for bankruptcy during the proceedings. The parties settled the suits and made an agreement that over 2,000 documents were to be released to the public. The documents contained information on priests not subject to the litigation but was used to prove a “pattern and practice” of abuse. At a subsequent hearing, the bankruptcy court concluded that the Church had not demonstrated “good cause” sufficient to overcome public access to the documents and the court also ruled that the documents were not “scandalous.” Two priests appealed the bankruptcy court’s decision. The Ninth Circuit held that a rule protecting the privacy interests of third parties is inconsistent with FRCP 26. The Court also ruled that the public has a weighty interest in knowing who might sexually abuse children. Because one priest was still working as a priest in his community, the Court held that the information on the priest still working should be made public. However, the Court held that the bankruptcy court abused its discretion in releasing and refusing to redact the retired priest’s information. The Court further held that the bankruptcy court abused its discretion in refusing to strike the “scandalous” portion of the documents that accused the priests of sexually abusing children. AFFIRMED in part and REVERSED in part.

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