- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
A religious psychiatric hospital in Adelphi that treats Roman Catholic clergy accused of sexual abuse will tighten suicide-prevention methods after a Connecticut priest hanged himself there last week.< br>The suicide of the Rev. Alfred Bietighofer, who hanged himself Thursday in his dormitory room at St. Luke Institute, was the first at the facility in its 25-year history and surprised the hospital staff.
"We were caught off guard," said the Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti, director of St. Luke. "In this current crisis there is a particular need to be more vigilant."
The institute will closely monitor all priests facing sexual-abuse charges who come for psychological evaluations or residential treatment at the Silver Spring center, he said. Previously, the center closely watched those who were deemed suicide risks.
Funeral services were held in Norwalk, Conn., yesterday for Father Bietighofer, 64, who was at St. Luke for an evaluation after two men accused him of sexually abusing them in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Police and the institute have revealed little about why Father Bietighofer killed himself, citing patient privacy. But psychologists say the entire priesthood faces tremendous public scrutiny in the wake of widespread allegations of abuse and cover-ups by church authorities.
"We tend not to think of what it is like for the accused individual," said Dr. Fred Berlin, a sexual-disorders expert at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a former St. Luke board member.
"It is pretty traumatic in most instances when one is accused. They face the prospect of their reputation being besmirched, losing their livelihood or even being incarcerated," he said.
St. Luke is one of only a handful of hospitals that treat members of the priesthood for sexual abuse and other psychological conditions. Only one other patient had committed suicide, but that incident occurred off site and not in the center's facilities, said Father Rossetti. He would not give details on when or where it happened.
Maryland officials are investigating Father Bietighofer's death, and St. Luke is conducting an internal review.


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