Priest Abuse Claims Disputed in Court
Richmond: Both Sides Using Defendant's Exaggeration of Symptoms to Bolster Their Statements
By Kelli Phillips
Contra Costa Times [California]
July 12, 2006
Two psychologists testified in a priest molestation civil trial Tuesday that the alleged victim shows signs of abuse, despite test findings that he "overreported" symptoms.
Dr. Jennifer Keller and Dr. Bruce Arnow, both of Stanford University, took the stand as expert witnesses for the plaintiff, Joey Piscitelli, at the Superior Court trial in Martinez.
The former altar boy alleges that he was abused by the Rev. Stephen Whelan, a vice principal, when he was a freshman and sophomore at Salesian High School in Richmond from 1969 to 1971.
Keller and Arnow met with Piscitelli separately after he filed a lawsuit against the Salesian order in 2003. Keller administered several personality tests, while Arnow took an in-depth history of Piscitelli's life.
Test results showed that Piscitelli overreported symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, on one test and mildly exaggerated on another, Keller said.
"We have a person who was over the charts and his lawyer has to get him to go back and do more testing and he's found to be exaggerating again, but not to the same extent," Wayne Mason, a Texas-based attorney representing the Salesian order, pointed out on cross-examination.
Arnow interpreted the results differently. "He felt invalidated, he feels like to be heard at all he has to shout, and that's what we saw on the test results."
Both psychologists said that overreporting symptoms does not mean a person is lying about events of abuse. "There's nothing to suggest his stories of abuse are false," Keller said.
Mason said that most of the personality testing was self-reporting and that neither psychologist investigated Piscitelli's claims. "So, when it comes to making an assessment you have to rely on a story told to you by the patient," Mason said.
Whelan may take the stand today or Thursday.
Piscitelli, now a 50-year-old Martinez resident who is a coordinator for the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, is expected to testify late this week.
This the second trial in two months involving Salesian High School. The Salesian order reached a $700,000 settlement with another man June 28 in Alameda County Superior Court during jury deliberations.
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