Maryland hospital for priests
not required to report all suspected abuse
In Making Decision, Maryland
Attorney General's Office Contradicts Statement by Staff Lawyer
By Avram Goldstein - Washington Post
Sunday, June 30, 2002
The Maryland attorney general's office has contradicted one
of its staff lawyers and allowed St. Luke Institute, the Silver
Spring psychiatric hospital that treats Catholic priests who
have sexually abused minors, to continue its policy of not
reporting suspected abuse to authorities if it occurred outside
In a letter last week, Deputy Attorney General Carmen M.
Shepard declared that Maryland health care practitioners are
not obligated to tell law enforcement agencies about suspected
abuse outside the state unless the alleged 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.
On June 12, an assistant attorney general said the hospital's
policy violated Maryland's reporting law. But in view of 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 surprise and concern
about the Maryland attorney general's interpretation and said
no other state considers the victim's location in applying
"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 allegation of sexual
abuse of a minor to civil authorities but do not require them
to make a report if the alleged 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.
Victim advocates said that it remains to be seen whether
the dioceses will follow their own guidelines and that a strict
reporting requirement at St. Luke -- which has treated hundreds
of priests for sexual and other disorders since it was founded
in 1981 -- would be an important safeguard against continued
The limit on reporting at St. Luke "has not served the
protection of children and has not served the church itself,
because it has allowed them to continue to keep the secret,"
said Ellen Mugmon, legislative chairwoman of the Maryland
State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. "It has created
more victims and opened the church to scandal and suits. The
offender is placed in situations that allow him to re-offend."
Rossetti, however, said reducing doctor-patient confidentiality
might deter some priests from seeking care at St. Luke, which
would be a loss for society.
"I think we're part of the solution, not part of the
problem," Rossetti said. "We have protected hundreds
of children from being molested.
"In the future, this won't be a problem, because the
archdioceses will report them all and dismiss them all,"
added Rossetti, referring to abusive priests.
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.
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
St. Luke officials said they complied with in-state reporting
requirements but thought it unnecessary to keep written records.
Wendy Kronmiller, an assistant attorney general who advises
the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, had said
in a June 12 interview that Maryland law requires health care
providers to report suspected child sexual abuse, regardless
of its location. And she said that her office had been advising
Maryland government agencies, including the department that
manages social services agencies, for several years to enforce
But Shepard said last week that the attorney general's office
has consistently held the view that the law does not require
the reporting of out-of-state abuse.
In fact, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. wrote a letter
to Maryland's child abuse council in 1991 recommending that
the General Assembly close the loophole. Several attempts
to follow that advice failed, with the bills never clearing
the House Judiciary Committee.
Staff writers Alan Cooperman and David S. Fallis contributed
to this report.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company