A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
Deposing Therapists: An abuse of the law
January 30, 2003
'RIGHTS IMPLY corresponding duties,'' Pope John Paul II told
a group of journalists in 1987. The Boston Archdiocese ought
to remember these words as it exercises its right to depose
the therapists of people who allege sexual abuse by priests.
The prime obligation of church leaders is not to contest the
suits but to settle all legitimate claims of abuse.
Bishop Richard G. Lennon, administrator of the archdiocese,
is pursuing a two-track strategy in the suits, which involve
hundreds of people claiming abuse. Lennon is continuing the
outreach to victims begun by his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard
F. Law, while employing legal tactics to minimize the financial
consequences of the scandal.
Many people who have filed suit allege long-term psychological
damage. Because the plaintiffs' mental state is at issue,
church lawyers have a right to question the plaintiffs' therapists.
But this legal tactic undercuts Lennon's commitment to offer
therapy and support to victims. The hard work of therapy is
best done when confidentiality is assured.
The archdiocese is asserting its rights in a more sweeping
manner as well. It seeks to dismiss the suit filed by 14 men
allegedly abused by the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham on the grounds
that the case would entangle the court in archdiocesan disciplinary
policy, a violation of the First Amendment. Birmingham died
in 1989, but if what his accusers say is true, he was repeatedly
involved in crimes. The attempt to dismiss the suit may be
only an effort to show insurance companies that the archdiocese
is exploring all legal avenues to limit liability. The courts,
however, would be wise to reject that argument. The First
Amendment should not be used to protect individuals or institutions
from being held liable for committing or covering up criminal
The US news media are also protected by the First Amendment.
Pope John Paul, when he addressed media representatives in
Los Angeles, reminded them of their duties.
''Precisely because your responsibility is so great and your
accountability to the community is not easily rendered juridically,
society relies so much on your good will,'' he said. ''In
a sense, the world is at your mercy.''
Catholic parents entrusted their children to the care of
the church for generations in the belief that they were safe
from harm. These youngsters deserved a secure spiritual upbringing,
yet some found themselves at the mercy of abusive priests.
Rather than brandishing the First Amendment or forcing therapists
to be deposed, Lennon needs to get the money required to settle
the lawsuits - first by obtaining the maximum from insurance
policies protecting the archdiocese, then generating the rest
from the sale of church property.
Pope John Paul told the journalists: ''You find a real meaning
in your work when you exercise your role as collaborators
of truth - collaborators of truth in the service of justice,
fairness, and love.'' Lennon needs to do what is just for
This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 1/30/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.