- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A psychiatric hospital does not have to report priests if they committed child sexual abuse outside Maryland, the state Attorney General's Office said.
St. Luke Institute in Adelphi has only reported cases that happened in Maryland or involved a Maryland resident. A staff lawyer in the Attorney General's Office said on June 12 that it was supposed to report all cases.
But in a letter last week, Deputy Attorney General Carmen Shepard said Maryland health care practitioners are not obligated to tell law enforcement agencies about suspected abuse outside the state. The only exception to that is if the victim currently lives in Maryland.
For suspected abuse that occurred in Maryland, the law requires reporting of every incident to authorities.
The issue is significant for St. Luke Institute because most of the priests it treats are from other states.
St. Luke's policy has always been not to notify police when its patients tell therapists about abuse that occurred outside Maryland.
The institute's officials maintained that they were not legally required to make such reports, and they argued that doing so would violate doctor-patient confidentiality.
In view of Miss Shepard's letter, the hospital policy will stand, said the Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti, St. Luke's chief executive.
Legal and child-abuse experts expressed concern about the Maryland attorney general's interpretation and said no other state considers the victim's location in applying reporting obligations.
"We are unaware of any other state that places such geographic restrictions on the requirement that a health care practitioner report any suspected child abuse," said Susan Kreston, deputy director of the Alexandria-based National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse. "I'm disturbed, to say the least. From a public policy standpoint, it makes no sense."
Victim advocates said the policy may help the Catholic Church maintain the secrecy that has characterized its handling of abusive priests, despite rules adopted by the nation's Catholic bishops in Dallas this month.
Those rules call on dioceses to report an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor to civil authorities but do not require them to make a report if the reputed victim is no longer a minor.
The bishops also voted to dismiss from public ministry, but not the priesthood, any priest found to have committed sexual misconduct with a minor.
St. Luke has been under scrutiny since May 16, when a Catholic priest in its care committed suicide.
State health officials performed their first in-depth inspection of the facility after the suicide, and on June 11 they cited St. Luke for failing to demonstrate that it had ever reported abuse learned about in treatment sessions.
The Washington Times first reported about St. Luke's mission and patients.
Inspectors found no records showing that St. Luke had given police the names of priests, and they said St. Luke furnished no evidence that it had ever notified any agency by phone about abuse.
St. Luke officials said they complied with in-state reporting requirements but thought it unnecessary to keep written records.


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