WASHINGTON (RNS) The Supreme Court announced Monday (Oct. 5) that it will not intervene in two prominent church-state cases, one involving a Catholic diocese in Connecticut and the other a former Episcopal parish in California.
The Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. has fought since 2002 to block the release of more than 12,000 pages of depositions and court records related to sexually abusive clergy. Four newspapers sued for access to the documents, which Connecticut courts have agreed should be open to the public.
The diocese had specifically petitioned Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic, to keep the documents closed until the high court had heard its appeal on the constitutionality of the release order. That appeal is still pending, but legal analysts say it now appears unlikely that the Supreme Court will take it up.
The diocese said the court order poses a risk to all churches’ First Amendment rights and that “the content of the sealed documents soon to be released has already been extensively reported on.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops backed the Bridgeport diocese, saying that “we must remain vigilant against the risk that court-enforced avenues for the legitimate disclosure of documents are not abused…”
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, however, said the “records will help parishioners and the public learn who helped to conceal clergy sex crimes, and which of those wrongdoers are still in positions of power.”
Separately, the Supreme Court also declined to hear an appeal from St. James Anglican Church, which split from the Episcopal Church in 2004 after an openly gay man was elected bishop of New Hampshire.
The Episcopal Church argues that local churches may leave, but under denominational laws they may not take church property with them. Last January, California’s Supreme Court ruled that St. James is bound by those church laws.
Representatives for St. James said they will continue their legal fight in the California courts. Similar proceedings between conservative dissidents and the Episcopal Church are ongoing in several more states.
By Daniel Burke
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