Plea to Lennon: 'Do Not Do This to Your Wounded Faithful'
January 22, 2003
What follows is the text of a letter sent by 83 therapists, scholars, clergy, and others concerned about sexual abuse to Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the apostolic administrator of the Boston archdiocese:
Dear Bishop Lennon:
We the undersigned are clinicians, authors, clergy, and/or researchers who have been active in the area of psychological trauma, including childhood sexual abuse, for many years. We are writing from deep concern about the decision of the Archdiocese of Boston to depose therapists with whom you have contracted to provide clinical services to adult survivors of sexual abuse by priests.
The psychotherapist-patient relationship and the healing process therein are successful only to the extent that the therapy is impervious to disruptive impingements from others. In order to heal, any patient must be assured that conversations taking place in the consultation room are confidential. Under ordinary circumstances, confidentiality is broken only if the patient intends to harm herself/himself or someone else, and/or if the patient discloses that a minor is being abused or neglected. Most therapists make these exceptions to confidentiality clear to a patient early on. Although confidentiality is always sacred, it is even more so with patients whose bodies, minds, and souls already have been betrayed by loved and trusted figures in their lives.
We who are experienced in working with former victims of sexual abuse must assert that your willingness to allow your attorneys to invade the confidentiality of a survivor's psychotherapeutic treatment by deposing his or her therapist is an act of reabuse. In June of this year in a nationally televised speech in Dallas, Bishop Wilton Gregory, the president of The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, invited all victims of sexual abuse by clergy to come forward, and he pledged the commitment of the American Catholic Church to help these members of the faithful heal. He said, ''If there is anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse by a priest or representative of the Church in the United States and has not yet reported this fact, I ask you to report it to the bishop of your diocese and to the appropriate civil authorities. Though this may be a very difficult step for you, the Church does love you and wants to help you find justice and healing.'' Many dioceses, including Boston, made similar pleas. Often, victims coming forward have been offered psychotherapy as one reparative gesture provided by the Church. Many victims, perhaps hoping to restore their faith in the compassion and good will of the Church they still love, indeed stepped forward and availed themselves of the promised assistance. At the time, they were not informed that if they also were involved in litigation with the Church, their therapy conversations would be subject to depositions. Is it not painfully apparent to you that to call forth victims whose therapies you then allow to be penetrated and dismantled reenacts the seduction and abuse perpetrated by the original abuser?
In addition to revictimizing already traumatized victims of clergy abuse, subjecting therapists to depositions also traumatizes them. It is a shock for any therapist to experience the invasion of his or her consultation room by attorneys seeking information about a patient that may be used to discredit him or her in legal proceedings. Moreover, responding to subpoenas, preparing for and enduring depositions, and later perhaps having to testify in court removes the therapist from his or her own practice, thus disrupting the treatments of even more patients. Finally, in most cases, the therapy with the trauma survivor will be permanently harmed by the intrusion of the legal system.
Those who are in relationship with trauma survivors sometimes experience themselves as victims while survivors can end up subjectively feeling like abusers. While the Archdiocese of Boston has a legal right to pursue the depositions of therapists treating abuse survivors in litigation with the Church, it is crucial for Church officials to remember that these suits have emerged from the sexual abuse of minors by priests and, often, only after years of stonewalling efforts by the hierarchy. We hope that you will reconsider your decision to retraumatize the already broken members of your flock and will choose to pursue a pastoral rather than corporate and counter-litigious path.
In 1956, Chairman Mao launched in China the ''Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom'' campaign. In it, he asked that the citizens of China freely discuss their reactions to his regime. It was all a ruse. As people gratefully reached for what they perceived to be an outstretched hand, many ended up slaughtered or imprisoned. To invite adults who were tragically betrayed by priests and by your predecessor bishops to come forward to be helped, only to betray them again, is cruelly reminiscent of Mao's tactics. Please do not do this to your wounded faithful.
This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 1/22/2003.
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