AUGUSTA (AP) – A judge indicated he’ll probably order the attorney general to release details of sex abuse allegations made against Roman Catholic clergy, even those who are no longer alive.

Superior Court Justice Kirk Studstrup said the public’s right to know may outweigh the privacy rights of those names revealed in the state’s investigation into church abuse allegations that began in May 2002.

“I’m beginning to come around to the idea that the balance is probably with the public interest in disclosure,” Studstrup said Wednesday during a hearing in a lawsuit by a newspaper group seeking the release of the names.

Studstrup said he’ll release a written decision soon. But the release of the long-awaited report will probably be delayed while Attorney General Steven Rowe files an appeal to the state supreme court.

Rowe previously said he would not rule out publicly identifying those people he deems to be a threat to children. But he was against disclosing the names of priests who had died.

Blethen Maine Newspapers, owner of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal in Augusta and Morning Sentinel in Waterville, requested information from the files a month after the state received them. The attorney general’s office denied the request, prompting the lawsuit.

Rowe’s office said the records were part of an ongoing criminal investigation, making them exempt from the state’s freedom of access law. Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin also argued that the priests have a right to privacy that exists even after they die.

Studstrup held a hearing on the matter in September 2002, and gave the attorney general six months to complete its investigation.

On Wednesday, Robbin said that as far as the dead priests are concerned, the investigation has been complete for some time. A final report on the whole investigation due in August has been delayed.

Studstrup said that even though he was leaning toward releasing the documents, he was concerned about the fairness of naming people who cannot defend themselves. He also indicated that the quality of the allegations in the AG’s files is uneven.

“There are going to be some editorial decisions that should be made,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to put myself in the editor’s position on this one.”

AP-ES-10-09-03 0913EDT


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