Priest's Counseling Documents Allowed in Sexual Misconduct Suit

By Garry Mitchell
Associated Press, carried in Times Daily [Mobile AL]
November 10, 2006

The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that a Mobile woman's lawyer should get the psychological counseling documents on a Roman Catholic priest for use in her lawsuit against the church that involves alleged sexual misconduct.

The Rev. Paul G. Zoghby contended the documents sought by lawyers for a former parishioner, Linda Ledet, are confidential and were released only to Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb as his "spiritual counselor."

Lipscomb had restored Zoghby to the ministry after he underwent counseling at a New York monastery and hospital for sexual misconduct.

A Mobile County judge granted Ledet's lawyers use of the documents with some court restrictions, but the priest's attorney appealed that decision, leading to Thursday's state Supreme Court order.

In its ruling, Justice Lyn Stuart, writing for the majority, said Zoghby "has not established that the trial court exceeded the scope of its discretion in holding that these documents are not protected from disclosure."

The Mobile court's discovery order protects the contents of these documents and prevents unnecessary public release of what they contain, the high court noted, saying Zoghby's rights are adequately protected.

A trial on the lawsuit is expected early next year.

Vince Kilborn Jr., the priest's attorney, said Friday he doesn't expect the records will be used at trial, but he may ask the high court to reconsider it's ruling because he contends Lipscomb was "clearly giving" Zoghby spiritual advice.

He said Zoghby is not a defendant in Leder's suit against the archidocese.

Ledet's attorneys were unavailable for comment.

Ledet's complaint against the Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile claims that Zoghby, while serving as her pastor at a high-profile Mobile church, attempted to "force her, physically and by command as a priest, to engage in sexual relations with him," beginning in 1997.

She filed a complaint with the church in 2002 after church officials extended an invitation to victims of abuse.

Lipscomb confronted Zoghby.

According to court documents, Ledet was told Zoghby would not be placed in a position where he could further harm others. As part of the agreement, Ledet would keep silent about what had occurred.

But in 2003, she learned that Zoghby had returned to active ministry in a Baldwin County parish near Mobile. Ledet, who underwent therapy for the alleged abuse, complained to Lipscomb about Zoghby's return.

She presented bills for her treatment to the archdiocese for payment, but the church refused to pay, according to court documents.

Ledet sued the archdiocese and Lipscomb in 2004, alleging breach of contract.

As the case advanced, she learned that Zoghby had been sent to Trinity Retreat, a church counseling center in New York state that is connected to a psychiatric hospital. Her attorney sought records from Zoghby's time spent at the center, which the church claimed were confidential and privileged.

In an affidavit, Zoghby said the documents were released to Lipscomb "as my bishop and a spiritual adviser."

But Ledet's attorney contended Zoghby waived the psychotherapist-patient privilege by authorizing the release of the documents to Lipscomb and that the archbishop was acting as an administrator, not a spiritual adviser, when he got them.


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