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  Priests Want Mental Records Withheld

By James F. McCarty
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
April 26, 2002

Five priests named in past allegations of child sexual abuse asked a judge yesterday to block the Cleveland Catholic Diocese from turning over potentially sensitive medical documents to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office.

The documents contain details of psychological treatment that the priests received following the allegations but that they believe to be privileged and confidential, according to court documents filed in Common Pleas Court.

Prosecutor William Mason said the medical documents should be turned over to him in response to a grand jury subpoena he delivered to the diocese this month.

Lawyers for the priests appeared with prosecutors at an emergency hearing yesterday before Judge Richard McMonagle, the court's presiding and administrative judge.

McMonagle ordered the diocese to turn over all of the priests' records but to file the medical and psychological records under seal.

He put off a decision on whether to turn those records over to the prosecutor's office until after he inspects them in private and holds a hearing May 16.

"There may be something privileged in there," McMonagle said.

"Are psychiatric records admissible evidence? That's something I'll have to decide."

Before yesterday's hearing, Mason said diocesan officials told him to expect the priests' complete files today.

Stephen Sozio, a lawyer recently hired by the diocese to handle the sex-abuse controversy, declined comment.

None of the priests' lawyers returned phone calls.

The priests are anonymous in the court motions, identified only as John Does. But a source with knowledge of the cases identified three of them as: The Rev. David Weber, rector of St. John Cathedral in Cleveland. Weber, who according to sources was once accused of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy, was the last of 11 active priests suspended by the diocese in the last month.

The Rev. Raymond Bartnikowski, pastor of St. Victor parish in Richfield. He was suspended March 29, one day after a woman told diocesan officials that he had abused her as a schoolgirl at a Garfield Heights parish three decades earlier.

The Rev. Neil Conway, a retired priest who has admitted abusing eight boys over 22 years in parishes in Cleveland, Northfield and Akron.

The three are among 24 active, retired or former priests whose files the diocese has agreed to turn over to prosecutors in response to Mason's April 5 subpoena.

The identities of the two other "John Doe" priests in yesterday's motions are unknown.

Lawyers for the five priests argue that there are valid legal reasons for not disclosing their clients' psychological reports.

"The rationale for excluding material evidence offered by a treating physician is to encourage open disclosure by the patient to the doctor in order to facilitate proper diagnosis and treatment," wrote lawyer Henry Hilow. He said his client received effective treatment for his problems by being open and believed the information would not be disclosed to anyone else.

 
 

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