Group Chides Jesuit Shrink for Opinion on Alleged Abusers

By Robin Washington and Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
July 22, 2003

A Jesuit psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital whose highly charged testimony has been sought by church officials and plaintiffs' lawyers in clergy abuse cases may have run afoul of professional ethics, experts said.

In a deposition released last week, the Rev. Dr. Edwin "Ned" Cassem said he saw no need to meet the Revs. James Foley, Jay Mullin, Paul R. Shanley and Paul Tivnan before giving often harshly worded assessments of them to Archdiocese of Boston officials.

One reason, he said, was because he expected them to "lie."

Those comments - and testimony in which Cassem spoke of Shanley as a "scumbag" and said "castration would have been too good for him" - were called "unsettling" by Dr. Spencer Eth of New York Medical College, chairman of the American Psychiatric Association's Ethics Committee.

"This type of testimony would have to be seriously investigated by a psychiatric ethics committee," Eth said. "That sounds like behavior that raises ethical questions regarding the competency of that psychiatric activity."

Cassem could not be reached for comment. Peggy Slasman, an MGH spokeswoman, said: "Dr. Cassem has been advised it would be inappropriate to comment beyond the scope of his testimony."

In the deposition - part of a suit by Gregory Ford of Newton over alleged rape by Shanley - church lawyer Wilson D. Rogers III asked Cassem: "You felt comfortable rendering an opinion regarding whether a priest could go back into ministry, into an assignment in a parish, with a potential allegation of sexual abuse . . ., without review of any records, without interview of the priest or interview of complainants; is that fair?"

"That's correct," Cassem said.

When Rogers asked if it would have been helpful to sit down with the priests, Cassem answered no - because "the nature of the pedophile is he'll object, he lies."

Cassem's willingness to pass judgments on plaintiffs without meeting them has previously angered victims' rights advocates.

In a case last year, Cassem penned an affidavit calling Paul R. Edwards, who accused Monsignor Michael Smith Foster of molestation, a "sociopath" and "psychopath" without ever examining Edwards.

Cassem's evaluations may conflict with his profession's Principles of Medical Ethics, said Dr. Richard Milone, a consultant to the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Ethics.

Section 7, paragraph 3 reads: "It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion (of persons in the public eye) unless he/she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement."

Dr. Bruce V. Hillowe, an attorney and psychiatrist, who teaches medical ethics at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, said psychiatrists may give opinions based solely on acquired sources - so-called "forensic psychiatry" - "but your opinion must be explicitly limited by your reliance on those materials."


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