Doctors: Church Used Us
By Eric Rich and Elizabeth Hamilton
[See also Egan Protected Abusive Priests for links to related articles.]
A nationally renowned psychiatric hospital that for years has treated clergy accused of sexual misconduct now says it was deceived by the Roman Catholic Church into providing reports that the church used to keep abusive priests in the ministry.
The church sometimes concealed information about past complaints against clergy sent for treatment, and disregarded warnings that the hospital's evaluations should not determine a priest's fitness for parish work, doctors at Hartford's Institute of Living said in interviews. As a result, the institute may have unwittingly provided the clinical cover cited by New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan and other church officials as their reason for not suspending some accused priests, including such now-notorious figures as the defrocked John Geoghan in Boston, accused of molesting more than 130 people.
"In some cases, necessary and pertinent information related to prior sexual misconduct has been withheld from us," said Dr. Harold I. Schwartz, the institute's chief of psychiatry. "In some cases, it would appear that our evaluations have been misconstrued in order to return priests to ministry."
[Photo Captions - [Egan.] Dr. Harold I. Schwartz is the psychiatrist-in-chief of the Institute of Living in Hartford. "In some cases," he said, "it would appear that our evaluations have been misconstrued in order to return priests to ministry." Photo by Brad Clift. Near the main entrance to the Institute of Living is the Center Building, one of the main buildings of the original institute that's been a Hartford fixture for more than 100 years. Photo by Brad Clift. Dr. Leslie Lothstein, Director of Psychology at the Institute of Living and a founder of the institute's program for treating pedophiles, says the catholic church frequently ignored doctors' advice when deciding whether to return abusive priests to work. Photo by Bob MacDonnell. Defrocked catholic priest John Geoghan sits in the courtroom as he was given the maximum sentence of up to 10 years in jail for child abuse Feb. 21. Photo by Reuters.
[Chart Captions - A tangled relationship. These documents relating to the case of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan, now in jail for molestating a 10-year-old boy, show the complex relationship between the institute of living and the Archdiocese of Boston over the past 12 years. In 1989, the church insisted the Institute take written responsibility for returning Geoghan to parish work, and the Institute cautiously complied. In 1990, at Geoghan's request, the Institute reaffirmed his fitness "for pastoral work including children." Then, in 1996, a church official complained the Institutes was too much of an advocate for Geoghan. Treating John Geoghan [Timeline]. Egan explains reasons for letting priests return - In pretrial testimony in 1997 and 1999, then Bishop Edward M. Egan often invoked psychiatric evaluations as grounds for his decision not to suspend priests accused of sexual misconduct. Who's Who]
Schwartz spoke of the "surprise we have experienced, to learn only recently as these scandals were emerging in the press, that in so many instances we have been providing treatment to individuals while being so inadequately informed."
He said the institute has decided to require that the church attest, in writing, that it has disclosed any past allegations against priests referred for treatment.
That the Institute of Living would make such accusations about the Roman Catholic Church is extraordinary.
As one of the first major psychiatric hospitals to introduce concepts of spirituality to the treatment of clergy, the institute became unusually close to the church. Scores of priests from all over the country have been treated there, priests have worked for the institute, and one of its doctors was even knighted by Pope Pius XII in 1951.
The institute's criticisms of the church underscore the depth of unease among doctors, as it becomes increasingly apparent that various diocesan officials have invoked the institute's evaluations, time and again, as the reason for allowing abusive priests to continue working.
In his annual pastoral letter yesterday, Egan again cited the institute in defending his handling of sex-abuse cases while he was bishop of the Bridgeport diocese. He said it was his policy to send priests facing allegations "immediately to one of the most prominent psychiatric institutions in the nation for evaluation."
"If the conclusions were favorable, he was returned to ministry, in some cases with restrictions, so as to be doubly careful," Egan said. "If they were not favorable, he was not allowed to function as a priest."
But Leslie Lothstein, the institute's director of psychology, said that the church frequently ignored doctors' advice when deciding whether to return abusive priests to work.
"I found that they rarely followed our recommendations," Lothstein said. "They would put them back into work where they still had access to vulnerable populations."
The institute's claims -- made in interviews conducted before Egan issued his statement Saturday -- raise questions about the church's motives and expectations when seeking treatment.
Court documents reviewed by The Courant -- which contain sealed pretrial testimony from the settled Bridgeport cases -- show that the diocese never referred sex-abuse allegations against a priest to civil authorities for investigation. Instead, church officials made clear they believed that an evaluation at the institute would determine the truth of an accusation.
Egan said during a 1999 deposition that he could take little action against an accused priest if doctors did not substantiate the complaint: "We would have to proceed as anyone else would proceed, by presuming innocence until guilt is proved," he said.
A case in point is the Rev. Raymond Pcolka, whom Egan sent to the Institute of Living in 1989, after a mother accused Pcolka of molesting her son years earlier. Egan testified that "an expert of some renown" at the institute concluded "that there was no reason for us to hesitate to allow this person to continue his duty."
What the institute hadn't been told is that Pcolka had faced another complaint, six years earlier, that he molested a 7-year-old girl. Egan told lawyers during his deposition that a 1983 letter containing that accusation had gone missing from Pcolka's personnel file at the diocese.
A spokesman for Egan at the Archdiocese of New York, where Egan was elevated to cardinal last year, did not respond to calls seeking comment. Attorney Joseph Sweeney, who represented Egan during the Bridgeport lawsuits, defended the former bishop's use of the institute's evaluations.
Egan, he said, consulted the Institute of Living every time a priest was accused of sexual misconduct and never went against the advice of professionals there. Sweeney said Egan used his own judgment when deciding whether to remove priests from active ministry, adding that recommendations from doctors were "not the sole factor," but were "probably the most significant factor."
"The mental health therapists have ways and techniques of finding out the truth," he said. "You can't expect that from the bishops. They're not Dick Tracys. They're not trained to be sleuths."
But a 1990 letter shows that the hospital long ago warned Egan's top aide in Bridgeport, the Rev. Laurence Bronkiewicz, that the church should not rely on its evaluations in deciding whether to remove a priest from ministry. The letter, written by an institute administrator, Dr. Howard Iger, said, "we certainly are in a weak position when we try to make predictions about future behavior."
"As you know from our recent contacts," Iger wrote, "we can be helpful through the use of our 'good offices' in helping to sort out what might be appropriate administrative action, but we must all be careful that our use of medical consultation does not overreach its validity."
To be sure, it is difficult to assess the Institute of Living's belated claim that it has been misled. The hospital would not point to specific cases in which the church allegedly withheld information, saying it is prevented by confidentiality laws.
Also, documents show that the institute sometimes did offer assurances that certain priests could return to parish work -- even, in Geoghan's case, after diagnosing the priest as having "atypical pedophilia in remission." Five years after the institute wrote the Boston archdiocese in 1990 that Geoghan was "psychologically fit" to continue working with children, he was again accused of molesting a boy.
One former psychiatrist who worked at the hospital called Schwartz's accusations against the church "self-serving" and said that in the 1980s, when the institute was struggling financially, it viewed the treatment of clergy as a profitable niche. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the psychiatrist said there were conversations, formally and informally, about worries that the church could take its business elsewhere.
"These were good patients for the institute," the psychiatrist said. "The diocese paid cash."
Under financial strain, the institute became a subsidiary of Hartford Hospital in 1994.
Schwartz declined to comment on the former psychiatrist's remarks.
He also would not speculate on the church's possible motivation for not disclosing past allegations. It is clear from the court documents that knowledge of past allegations made doctors less likely to recommend that a priest be returned to parish work.
James Gill, a psychiatrist and Jesuit priest who helped start the Institute of Living's program for clergy, said bishops frequently fail to share information about allegations, although he doesn't believe it is an attempt to mislead. He said the church is simply a secretive organization that is unaccustomed to the full disclosure required in treatment centers.
But, Gill acknowledged, there have been times when he believed a bishop was sending a priest for treatment with a specific outcome in mind -- namely to get a green light to send him back to work. One of those times happened early in his own career, he said, when a cardinal personally appealed to him to pronounce a priest fit for duty.
"I thought this guy was going to need months of therapy," Gill said. "But the cardinal showed up and told me he needed the guy back in his parish and he gave me a date he had to be back at work."
That jibes with an institute doctor's suggestion during a 1987 newspaper interview that the church, concerned about a clergy shortage, was anxious to get priests back into circulation after treatment.
"The bishops and vicars of priests, and leaders of religious communities, want everyone back," Dr. Thomas J. Conklin said.
Though neither the institute nor the various dioceses are willing to discuss individual cases, a review of medical records and diocesan memoranda contained in court files in Bridgeport, Norwich and Boston offers a rare perspective on the decades-old relationship, now frayed, between the church and the hospital.
Pedophile in Remission
The Archdiocese of Boston had received complaints that Father John Geoghan molested at least 15 children before sending him for treatment in 1989 -- but apparently told clinicians about only six.
Geoghan was first evaluated at St. Luke Institute in Maryland, which summarized the reason for his referral as "reports that he had been sexually involved with three boys during the 1983-84 time period," as well as Geoghan's admission that he had fondled "three other boys" in the late 1970s. Eight months later, the Institute of Living cited some of the same incidents in its own evaluation of the priest.
But that was hardly the whole story.
First, Geoghan hadn't admitted to fondling three boys in the late 1970s. Internal archdiocese memoranda show that he had admitted to molesting seven boys, ages 4 to 12, from the same family -- sexual abuse that ranged from fondling to oral sex.
And, according to diocese records subpoenaed in more than 100 sex-abuse cases against Geoghan, church officials received their first complaints about Geoghan as far back as 1968. Over the next 21 years, at least six more molestation allegations, some involving more than one victim, would be registered with the diocese.
Despite the incomplete information, it was enough for clinicians at St. Luke's who evaluated Geoghan in April 1989 to determine he was at "high risk" for offending again and shouldn't be allowed near children, and to recommend inpatient treatment. In short, they diagnosed him a pedophile.
Geoghan received that inpatient treatment at the Institute of Living from August to November of 1989. It is not clear how much information the institute was given about Geoghan's past behavior -- St. Luke Institute, years later, would conclude that Geoghan lied during that 1989 stay at the institute.
Whatever the reasons, the Institute of Living made what would turn out to be a disastrous recommendation. It diagnosed him an atypical pedophile "in remission," but said doctors decided after "meeting with the patient's superior" that Geoghan could return to his parish in Weston, Mass.
When that recommendation was received by the archdiocese, a top church official wrote back to the doctor saying he was "a bit disappointed and disturbed" by the report, and suggested that the diagnosis did not appear to be a firm basis for the decision to reassign Geoghan.
"It seems to suggest that the decision concerning his reassignment was based on one meeting with me, rather than three months of observation," wrote Bishop Robert J. Banks.
The institute doctor, Robert F. Swords, quickly responded with a reassuring letter on Dec. 13, 1989, saying: "It is both reasonable and therapeutic for him to be reassigned back to his parish."
Swords wrote a follow-up letter to Banks in Boston on Dec. 12, 1990, saying Geoghan "continues to do well and remains psychologically fit for pastoral work in general including children."
The civil and criminal allegations against Geoghan in Massachusetts indicate he had at least 30 victims from 1984 to 1993, when he was removed from parish work and sent to a home for retired priests.
Even then, Geoghan was still allegedly pursuing children.
Geoghan was defrocked by the Boston diocese in 1998 and convicted of one count of indecent assault earlier this year.
The church has paid out about $10 million in 50 cases against the priest, but 84 lawsuits are still pending.
Treatment For 'Burnout'
In the 1970s, before he became a priest, Richard Buongirno allegedly molested a teenager he met at St. Thomas More School in Colchester. When the victim came forward with a complaint in 1994, Buongirno, by then a member of the clergy, was promptly shipped off for treatment at the Institute of Living.
What the Norwich diocese did not mention to doctors at the institute was that, three years earlier, Buongirno was accused of having a 9-year-old altar boy stay in his bed at the rectory at St. Matthias in East Lyme.
Doctors diagnosed Buongirno as depressive. They treated him for self-described "burnout." They believed his claim that he had been celibate since joining the priesthood.
And they saw no reason to keep him from returning to active ministry.
A memorandum to Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, written by the bishop's aide, makes clear the diocese's desire for a written assurance that Buongirno could return to work. The memo contains the following account of the aide's conversation with the Rev. John Kiely, the institute's director of pastoral services: "Jack said the doctor was willing to write that Richard can return to ministry as we spoke about. Officially for the record and for your protection."
Upon release that September, Buongirno was assigned a parochial vicar at St. John Church in Cromwell.
In 1997, he crossed paths again with the altar boy who allegedly had stayed in his bed, now a junior at a Catholic high school. Buongirno renewed a relationship with the teenager, showering him with gifts -- stock in Microsoft Corp., a computer -- and let him drive his 1956 Chevy Bel Air, according to court records.
According to a lawsuit filed by the teenager, the abuse began again later that year. The priest said their relationship was blessed by God, the boy later said. He was 16; Buongirno was 53.
It ended only when the church learned that Buongirno had taken the boy on a cross-country road trip to Mount Rushmore. Reilly ordered them home -- and asked Buongirno to leave the priesthood.
"My faith in God has been shattered," the boy said in an affidavit. "My childhood was destroyed."
Standing before a Superior Court judge earlier this month, a lawyer for the diocese argued that it could not be held accountable for Buongirno's actions with the teenager because doctors at the institute had recommended that he be allowed back into ministry.
Protecting The Public
When Egan was bishop of Bridgeport, his record on informing the institute about the full scope of sexual misconduct allegations against his priests is not clear.
What is clear, however, is his almost exclusive reliance on the institute and other professionals to determine what administrative action he should take against a priest.
Priests Charles Carr and Raymond Pcolka were sent to the Institute of Living by Egan after abuse allegations and, in both cases, Egan and other church officials cited the institute's findings to explain why they allowed the priests to continue working.
In the Carr case, for example, the priest denied the accusations during his initial meeting with doctors in January 1990, and was returned to parish work. When new allegations came forth a few months later, Carr was returned to the institute for a more extensive evaluation.
An institute doctor advised the diocese to take "some administrative action to protect both Father Carr and the public" from future "lapses" by Carr. Egan allowed Carr to continue as a priest, but on the condition that he remain in treatment and have no contact with children.
A year later, that restriction was lifted -- this time on the advice of a different psychiatrist. Sweeney, the diocese's attorney, said Egan followed the recommendation of a Jesuit priest and psychiatrist from New York who was treating Carr on an outpatient basis.
Egan suspended Carr in 1995 when the diocese was sued over sex-abuse allegations, but allowed him to return to work -- albeit in a restricted capacity -- in 1999 after more treatment. Carr served as a nursing home pastor until last month, when new allegations were made against him.
The same pattern was followed in the Pcolka case, but in a more abbreviated form. Pcolka, who was eventually accused of molesting more than a dozen children in civil lawsuits, was first sent to the institute in 1989 for an evaluation. Egan said in his 1999 deposition that he returned the priest to his parish at the advice of the professionals at the Institute of Living, who indicated "that there was no reason for us to hesitate to allow this person to continue in his duty."
There is no way to determine whether this is an accurate representation of the institute's findings, however, because a judge in the Pcolka lawsuits ruled that the diocese could not turn over the priest's psychiatric records to the plaintiffs. What is clear is that the 1983 letter that would have alerted doctors to an earlier complaint against Pcolka was missing from his personnel file.
Sweeney said a doctor at the Institute of Living told the diocese he'd "found no basis for challenging [Pcolka's] denial of the allegations."
"That's the way it was expressed to the diocese," Sweeney said.
Pcolka continued working at his Greenwich church until 1992, when the diocese received another complaint. Egan ordered the priest back to the Hartford treatment center, but Pcolka stayed only 10 days before leaving against the advice of doctors and against Egan's orders.
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