orders limit on victim therapy
By DAVID YONKE - Toledo Blade
September 4, 2003
The local chapter of a national organization protested yesterday
a new policy imposed by the Toledo diocese that limits the
number of counseling sessions it will provide for sex-abuse
victims unless an outside panel approves an extension.
"This is just another hoop for victims to jump through,"
said Claudia Vercellotti, co-coordinator of the local chapter
of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, in a news
conference outside the downtown Catholic Center. "The
diocese is holding itself out as an HMO."
She said only the victim's therapist is qualified to determine
how long counseling should continue. "Victims cannot
be put on a timeline to be healed," Ms. Vercellotti said.
The policy, detailed in letters mailed to about 15 local
therapists July 16 and Aug. 29, sets a 25-session cap on each
victim's treatment. Diocesan case manager Frank DiLallo said
in the letters therapists must submit "progress letters"
and "treatment plans" stating why more sessions
are necessary before the diocese could authorize further payment.
Victims would be required to sign an agreement allowing their
counselors to release the information, which then would be
reviewed by an independent clinical advisory panel. That three-person
panel of psychological experts is being formed, Mr. DiLallo
said yesterday, contacted after SNAP's protest.
The progress letters will go directly to the independent
panel and no diocesan officials will see them, Mr. DiLallo
That provision, however, did not assuage SNAP leaders.
"Victims are scared their confidentiality will be compromised,"
Ms. Vercellotti said.
Jon Schoonmaker, a Toledo SNAP co-coordinator, called the
new policy "an absolute violation of my privacy."
Some victims are concerned that privileged information shared
with therapists during counseling sessions could be revealed
to the panel and possibly used against them by the diocese
when a lawsuit comes to trial, Ms. Vercellotti said.
She said SNAP is urging victims not to sign the releases
and said her organization has filed a complaint with the state
board overseeing licensed therapists.
Ms. Vercellotti said the new policy goes against the spirit
of the Dallas Charter, adopted by the U.S. bishops last year,
which pledges to work toward regaining victims' trust.
"The first obligation of the church with regard to the
victims," the charter states, "is for healing and
reconciliation." It orders dioceses "to make a sincere
commitment to [victims'] spiritual and emotional well-being,"
including making provision for counseling. It makes no reference
to the number of sessions allowed.
Mr. DiLallo said the policy is modeled after one put in place
by the Chicago archdiocese and recommended by the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops in Washington. He said that under the
diocese's previous "open-ended" policy, some victims
have undergone hundreds of counseling sessions.
Finances were not a factor in the policy, Mr. DiLallo said,
adding that "this is not about the diocese's pocketbook."
The procedure is intended "to assure healing,"
he said, by having independent experts provide an objective
opinion on the progress of each victim's therapy.
David Clohessy, national president of SNAP, said such limits
"Any reputable independent therapist would scoff at
the notion that any molestation victim can be healed in 25
sessions," Mr. Clohessy said yesterday. "If we have
learned anything in the last year and a half, we have learned
that the wounds are deep and long-lasting and that there is
no quick fix for this kind of horrific betrayal."
Mr. DiLallo said he did not have an updated figure on how
much the Toledo diocese has spent on counseling for victims
and their families.
The latest figure was provided by the late Bishop James Hoffman
in October when he said the diocese had spent nearly $470,000
on settlements, pastoral care, and legal fees between Jan.
1, 1981, and June 30, 2002. About one-third of that was for
counseling expenses, the diocese said.
Thirteen sex-abuse lawsuits have been filed against the Toledo
diocese since the national scandal broke in Boston in January,
2001, and are pending in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
Since May, 2002, six Toledo diocesan priests have been removed
from ministry over allegations of sexual abuse involving minors;
one was subsequently reinstated.
Three priests remain on leaves of absence pending investigations.