LOS ANGELES, April 17 —The Supreme Court refused on Monday to hear an appeal by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to withhold personnel records of two former priests involved in an investigation of child molesting.
The decision, issued without comment, requires the archdiocese to comply with a subpoena from District Attorney Steve Cooley, who has sought letters to the former priests and notes from counseling sessions conducted by the church.
Cardinal Roger Mahony had argued that the subpoenas were an unconstitutional intrusion on private church affairs.
Mr. Cooley said in a statement, "The U.S. Supreme Court's denial to review this matter establishes an important principle that evidence of criminality be made available to appropriate authorities."
The archdiocese, in a statement, called the ruling disappointing.
Legal experts said the case fit a pattern in which the church had sought to keep files private on First Amendment and other constitutional grounds. Generally, courts have ruled against such arguments, said Prof. Marci A. Hamilton of the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School in New York, an expert on church-state cases.
Professor Hamilton said this case could help 500 people who say they were sexually abused by those priests and scores of others and who have filed claims against the archdiocese.
"I would expect this would have a tremendous impact on the civil cases," she said. "These cases really are about the secrets they get to keep, not about the money."
The archdiocese indicated in its statement that it disagreed about broader repercussions, saying, "This ruling will have no effect on the ongoing efforts of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to settle the civil cases through mediation."
The church had argued that the subpoena, which it said requested 14 documents totaling 21 pages, "inherently entangles the state in the internal religious life of churches and intrudes into religious practice."
A judge in Superior Court had ordered the church to comply with the subpoena, issued in a grand jury investigation.
A state appellate court upheld that decision, and the State Supreme Court declined to review the case, leading the church to seek a review from the United States Supreme Court.
One of the former priests, Michael S. Baker, was charged in January with oral copulation with a minor over several years, ending in 1995.
The prosecutor's office has not identified the other priest.