The first mention of secret files kept by the Catholic Church on controversial matters dates back to the 1700s. These records, kept separate from routine issues, are only available to bishops and their inner circle. Supposedly housed in safes that could "withstand concentrated burglarious attacks by drills, sledge hammers, wedges and mechanical tools” since in the 20th century, the files were never meant to go beyond church walls.
Thousands of these documents were released by the Los Angeles Archdiocese in January when Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney was accused of covering up the crimes of 122 priests.
Thousands more are expected to be released in the coming months. They pertain to more than a dozen different Catholic orders. L.A. County Superior Court Judge Emilie Elias could set a date for the release at a Tuesday hearing.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the secret archives were first learned about in the late 1980s, when a priest told Minneapolis attorney Jeff Anderson that evidence of molestation was probably still logged away somewhere in the local diocese. Anderson, representing a molestation victim, subpoenaed the files. Church lawyers resisted, citing their right to religious freedom.
In 1988, a judge ordered the church to turn over the files in a Pennsylvania case where a priest allegedly molested a “mildly retarded” boy for nearly a decade. He said it doesn’t matter “whether the church gives a file a particular name.”
In Toledo, Oh., investigators looking into the 1980 murder of a nun were suspicious of Father Gerald Robinson. The subpoenaed the local diocese and got little information back.
"I said, 'Three pages! He's been working there for 20 years!'" said Thomas Matuszak, then a Lucas County prosecutor.
Armed with a search warrant for the secret files, Matuszak walked away with a 148-page file on Robinson, who was convicted in 2006.
Many wonder why the church keeps such incriminating “secret” evidence on hand.
Nicholas Cafardi, a canon law professor and former general counsel with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, said that the church has kept records on many different things dating back to the Gospels.
"The church expects to be here forever," Cafardi said. "They never know when they're going to need it