LOS ANGELES - Secret files kept for decades by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles on priests accused of sexually abusing children could soon become public as a five-year legal battle over the release reaches its endgame.
A judge will hear final objections Monday from accused priests and is also expected to begin hashing out a timeline for releasing thousands of pages of top-secret church documents.
The level of redaction in the documents will also be discussed, with media and plaintiffs' attorneys objecting to a 2010 order that would allow the names of top-level archdiocese leaders who dealt with the priests to be blacked out.
Plaintiffs' attorneys have been trying to gain access to the files since a $660 million settlement in 2007 called for disclosure.
Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court declined to intervene after a lower court ordered the release of some of the files, setting the stage for larger disclosure.
Attorneys for the church and for the plaintiffs said they expected the documents would be made public within a month and no later than February after Monday's critical hearing. Private files on Franciscan friars accused of abuse were released earlier this year after a similar legal fight.
"There are explosive documents that are going to be coming out," said lead plaintiff attorney Ray Boucher, who has seen some of the material while reviewing it with archdiocese attorneys in preparation for the release.
"I don't think there's any question but that the information that will be forthcoming . . . is beyond anything the public has seen so far," he said.
The files contain letters between church leaders, including retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, letters to and from the priests themselves, notes and memos about reports of suspected abuse, medical and psychological records and - in some cases - paperwork petitioning for the defrocking of a particular priest by the Vatican.
Michael Hennigan, an archdiocese attorney, said the church is committed to releasing the documents but wants to make sure the privacy rights of priests are protected.