Mass. Diocese Ordered to Release Sex Abuse Documents to Insurers

January 12, 2007

A judge has ordered the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Mass. to release thousands of pages of documents in a dispute between the church and seven of its insurance carriers over settlements with clergy sex abuse victims.

The diocese sued the insurance companies to get them to cover the claims of 57 people who allege they were sexually abused by priests.

The insurers argued in court that more than 7,500 pages of documents from the church will enable them to see how diocese handled allegations of sexual abuse by priests and whether it fulfilled its obligation to protect the public.

In his ruling, Berkshire Superior Court Associate Justice John A. Agostini rejected the diocese’ arguments that documents were protected from disclosure under the First Amendment, priest-penitent privilege, religious autonomy and psychotherapist-patient privileges, The Republican newspaper of Springfield reported Thursday.

The judge, however, agreed with the diocese that some documents were protected by attorney-client privilege. Agostini heard arguments in December.

“Speaking for myself, I think you could say we were very pleased,” Adam Simms, a Boston attorney for one of the companies, North Star Reinsurance Corp. of Stamford, Conn., told the newspaper.

The diocese is reviewing the decision and may appeal against the ruling, spokesman Mark E. Dupont, told The Republican.

Greenfield lawyer John J. Stobierski, however, was happy with the ruling, describing it as “a significant repudiation” of the positions taken by the diocese in its efforts to keep the documents secret.

“There were a lot of creative legal arguments that were made and not accepted by the court,” said Stobierski, who represents more than 20 people with abuse claims.

The Springfield diocese settled claims from 46 other claimants for more than $7 million in 2004.

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