- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

The Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti has a congregation of troubled souls.
For nearly 10 years, he has ministered to clergy, preaching and counseling at a Silver Spring, Md., clinic to a group of nuns and priests struggling to deal with behavioral and psychological problems, including drinking, gambling and child sexual abuse.
"When you help one priest, one sister or one brother, you're helping the thousands of people that they will minister in the future," he says.
The temperature in his office is uncomfortably high because the air conditioner has not kicked in yet.
The hellish heat seems fitting.
Father Rossetti and others in the Catholic church are living in a pressure cooker of public scrutiny.
A child-abuse scandal within the church grew out of the trial in January of John Geoghan, a former priest accused of abuse by more than 130 people. The scandal has widened with the Boston Archdiocese turning over the names of more than 90 priests accused of abuse, and similar claims have arisen in other dioceses.
With the scandal tarnishing the church's image and leading some of the 62 million U.S. Catholics to question their faith, Father Rossetti is one of the people trying to restore the church by counseling nuns and priests.
"Obviously it's been stressful because we are in the eye of the storm, smack dab in the middle of a crisis. But it lets you know that this is important work," he says.
A licensed psychologist and former parish priest who ministered at two churches in upstate New York, Father Rossetti is the chief executive at St. Luke's Institute. The institute is an inpatient clinic outside the District that was started by the Rev. Michael Peterson in 1981 as a psychiatric hospital to treat clergy with alcohol and substance dependency.
Father Rossetti is a fast-talking 50-year-old, balding and boyish-looking at the same time. The New York native decided to become a priest after spending seven years in the military as an Air Force intelligence officer monitoring foreign communications.
He came to St. Luke's nine years ago.
"I was looking for a different challenge," he says.
He found it.
His flock is made up of 72 nuns and priests. They are men and women from all over the United States who have been referred to the clinic by bishops who order them to seek treatment for disorders. Only those with the most severe type of depression, combined with behavioral and personality disorders, are admitted to St. Luke's.
A group of 37 men and 12 women are currently undergoing treatment here for a range of disorders. Less than 25 percent of them have been accused of child sexual abuse. The patients will stay for up to seven months, and each has a room. Nuns can lock the doors on their rooms, but priests stay in rooms without locks so the clinic's staff can check up on them unannounced.
There are nine clergy in St. Luke's halfway house, a program for clergy who have completed the inpatient program but remain at the clinic for up to six months while they receive less rigorous care.
Ten clergy have returned to St. Luke's for a week to take part in continuing education courses designed for former patients, who must return regularly for up to five years. Four others have come for an evaluation to determine the extent of their problems and whether Father Rossetti and his 80 colleagues at the institute can help them.
Not only is St. Luke's full, but there also is a waiting list of people who won't be able to check in for two months because there is not enough space. Mr. Geoghan was never treated at St. Luke's, though thousands of others have been. An estimated 4,500 clergy have come here for treatment since Father Peterson opened the facility, which has a $6 million annual budget.
The current scandal could exacerbate the problem of space constraints as more child-abuse accusations surface. The number of referrals from bishops has increased since Mr. Geoghan's trial began in January, Father Rossetti says.
Except for making the days at St. Luke's more hectic, little else has changed since the accusations started other than placing the clinic under a spotlight. So far, no one has questioned St. Luke's approach.
"It has raised awareness of the need for a place like this," he says. "It has let us tell our story."
St. Luke's relies on a combination of individual therapy and group therapy to counsel nuns and priests. Multiple rooms throughout the facility have blue chairs arranged in a circle with boxes of tissues on the floor between them.
The front door is locked.
Father Rossetti's day starts with an hour of prayer at 7:15 a.m. in the chapel at St. Luke's. Then he begins the long hours of administrative work required to run the institute and clinical work involved with treating patients. He conducts more and more workshops outside the clinic to discuss child sexual abuse with groups of clergy.
"It's a frenetic pace," he says.
Father Rossetti has spent the past 13 years trying to understand child sexual abuse by clergy. He estimates two percent of priests molest children at some point during their careers. It is not clear whether the problem is worse now than it was before because there aren't reliable statistics to indicate how prevalent abuse was in the past.
"We do know it's not a new issue. But we are certainly much more aware of it today and of the harm it causes," Father Rossetti says.
Clergy have other problems, too. An addiction to online pornography is among the recent disorders to emerge.
"I wouldn't underestimate the ubiquitousness of Internet pornography," he says.
But Father Rossetti argues that treatment will heal those who come to St. Luke's. The church hasn't done everything right, he says. It needs to work harder to improve communication with a skeptical public and share information with police.
But troubled clergy can be healed, he adds.
"Treatment works and people get better. If you [attend] this program, it's going to work," he says. "There are very few exceptions."
Despite his optimism, the stultifying heat in Father Rossetti's office and on the church has not lifted.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide