For centuries, the Catholic Church has had two sets of books—one for routine matters, the other containing records of controversial matters ranging from clandestine weddings performed by priests to clergy alcohol abuse. That second set of records, the first mention of which appeared in the 1700s, has been kept secret from nearly everyone, with only bishops and their inner circle having access to the materials. (In 1954, a scholar called for safes to house the files that could handle "attacks by drills, sledge hammers, wedges, and mechanical tools.") But the US probe into sex abuse is finally opening up the files, and many are due for release within months.
A hearing today may set a release date, the Los Angeles Times reports. The very existence of the records—given a range of names including sub secreto files, confidential files, and C-files—largely remained a secret until the 1980s; that's when a priest mentioned them to a Minneapolis lawyer investigating molestation reports. The LAT runs down a smattering of cases in which the church has been forced to turn over the files, including a nun's 1980 cold-case murder that saw prosecutors subpoena records on an Ohio priest in 2004. At first, the church offered just three pages of material, but a search warrant for his C-file led to 148 more. So why does the church hang on to the documents? the LAT wonders. "The church expects to be here forever," says a former general counsel for Pittsburgh's diocese. "They never know when they're going to need it."