LOS ANGELES (AP) — A judge on Monday ordered the release of thousands of pages of personnel files that would identify Roman Catholic priests accused of child molestation and their leaders in the church.
The ruling by Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias contradicts a previous order in 2010 by another judge that allowed the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to redact the names of church higher-ups.
Attorneys for the archdiocese previously said they planned to make the confidential files public by the middle of this month with the names of the church hierarchy blacked out.
It was unclear how long it would take to adhere to the new ruling. Church attorneys expressed concern about combing through 30,000 pages of documents.
Elias continued to meet with attorneys following the hearing.
The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times intervened in the case in December and argued in court papers that the redactions would prevent the public from learning which church officials knew about abusive priests, how much they knew and how they handled it.
Files released in other dioceses, such as Boston, have shown that the church shuffled priests among parishes without calling police.
Elias heard oral arguments before issuing her ruling.
More than 550 plaintiffs settled with the archdiocese in 2007 for a record-breaking $660 million, but the agreement also called for a process to vet personnel files for future release. The documents include letters and memos between top church officials and their attorneys, medical and psychological records, complaints from parents and, in some cases, correspondence with the Vatican about abusive priests.
More than 20 accused priests have held up the release in court for five years, arguing that making their files public would violate their privacy rights.
The priests have exhausted their legal appeals, however, and the documents are expected to come out within days or weeks.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Ray Boucher also filed court papers last week outlining heavy redactions to three of the 72 files in question that he believes violate the scope of the previous judge’s order.
The archdiocese said in court filings last week that any changes to the 2010 order on what can be blacked out will cause a significant delay in the release of the files. The church also argued that Judge Elias doesn’t have the power to change the earlier decision.
At the time, Judge Dickran Tevrizian said members of the public could figure out which church leaders were responsible for how molesting priests were handled by matching the documents’ date and location with a roster of the archdiocese staff at the time. He said the release of the files should not be used to “embarrass or to ridicule the church.”
Elias has been reviewing two versions of the files — redacted and unredacted — since Dec. 27.