The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the release of thousands of pages of sealed documents concerning sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.
The court's decision Monday effectively lifts a stay that has delayed the release of the documents since 2006, when four newspapers persuaded a Connecticut court to unseal them.
The materials were filed in 23 lawsuits against the Catholic diocese by parishioners during the 1990s, alleging that the church failed to supervise its priests and reassigned those suspected of abusing children. The cases were settled in 2001, as the Catholic abuse scandal grew in national prominence.
The sealed documents are said to include transcripts of depositions of church officials, including Cardinal Edward Egan, and files from the investigation of priests accused of abuse during the 1960s and 1970s. A 2002 article in the Hartford (Conn.) Courant described some of the documents, which the newspaper said it obtained from sources it didn't name.
The other newspaper plaintiffs were the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Washington Post.
A Connecticut judge scheduled a hearing for Nov. 9 on unsealing the documents.
The case demonstrates the diocese's failure to "take appropriate action to protect innocent children from priests that it knew to be sexual predators," Dan Sullivan, the co-chairman of the Bridgeport affiliate of Voices of the Faithful, an advocate for victims of sex abuse by clergy, said in a statement.
In an interview, Bridgeport's bishop, the Most Rev. William Lori, said the church had apologized and improved. "The Catholic Church today is one of the safest places your child can be, thanks to all the steps the diocese has taken," he said.
"Every employee, every volunteer, every member of the clergy undergo background checks," Bishop Lori said. "No one who abused a child or harmed a young person has been in ministry for 10 or 15 years."
Bishop Lori said the diocese was concerned "about the impact that these court decisions will have on our First Amendment rights, to determine who is or is not fit to become a priest, and that applies to all religions." The church has maintained it only released the documents to the plaintiffs under the promise that they would remain sealed.