Attorneys for nearly 150 people who claim sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests released thousands of pages of previously sealed internal church documents Sunday that detail complaints against the clerics and include medical records and correspondence between priests and their superiors.
A retired San Diego Superior Court judge ruled late Friday that roughly 10,000 pages of internal records could be made public after a yearslong legal battle with the Diocese of San Diego. The records are from the personnel files of 48 priests who were either credibly accused or convicted of sexual abuse or were named in a civil lawsuit.
The 144 plaintiffs settled with the diocese in 2007 for nearly $200 million, but the agreement stipulated that an independent judge would review the priests' sealed personnel records and determine what could be made public.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said Sunday the files show how much the diocese knew about abusive priests, starting decades before any allegations became public, and that some church leaders shuffled priests from parish to parish or overseas despite credible complaints against them.
Donna Daly, a spokeswoman for the diocese, did not immediately return a call on Sunday.
The papers contain documents from the files of Rev. Anthony Rodrigue. In 1976, a group of parents at Rodrigue's parish in Heber, Calif., complained he had molested their children, according to court documents.
The priest was sent to a psychiatric facility in Massachusetts for treatment but was put back in ministry despite the recommendations of those who treated him.
Rodrigue later admitted he had molested up to six children a year over a span of about 25 years, said Irwin Zalkin, an attorney for the plaintiffs. About 30 people filed lawsuits against the diocese alleging sexual abuse against the priest, who died within the last year, he said.
"He was probably one of the most profilic abusers in this diocese. ... And they knew about this guy from his days in the seminary but kept him in ministry," Zalkin said.
Another case outlined in the files involves the Rev. Robert Nikliborc, who was sent to a psychiatric treatment facility after the diocese received complaints, then became director of a Roman Catholic residential facility for troubled boys called Boystown of the Desert in Banning, Calif.
Boys who lived there filed lawsuits against Nikliborc and were part of the 2007 settlement, said Anthony DeMarco, a plaintiffs attorney. The priest died while litigation was under way.
"It's just unfathomable how any person in a position of trust could ever think of assigning someone like Nikliborc to direct a facility of such vulnerable children," he said.