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Abuse victims say church offer to pay for therapy has strings

DAVID B. CARUSO - Associated Press
July 13, 2004

PHILADELPHIA - Almost a decade after he was allegedly sexually abused by a priest at his Roman Catholic high school, Arthur Baselice hoped he was on the way to recovery when church officials sought him out, apologized, and offered to pay for him to see a therapist.

But within months, Baselice said he began to see strings attached to the offer.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia asked him to select his therapist from a list approved by the church. He was told to sign a waiver authorizing his caregivers to discuss his progress with a church administrator. Finally, Baselice said he was pressured to settle all legal claims against the church for $50,000.

Instead of signing, Baselice sued, claiming that the counseling offer was a thinly veiled attempt to buy his silence.

The church, which has spent millions of dollars on counseling for abuse victims, insists that its only motive is to help victims heal. But abuse survivors around the country accuse Catholic administrators of having ulterior motives or acting too much like HMOs in their scrutiny of therapy expenses.

"There are often strict limits on how many sessions a victim can have. There are strict limits on who the victims can see for counseling. There are limits on what type of counseling, and rules about disclosure," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"It feels like, in many instances, church leaders go out of their way to make it cumbersome and intimidating for victims," Clohessy said.

In Boston, the archdiocese offered free counseling to hundreds of abuse survivors, then tried three months later to subpoena the victims' therapists as part of the church's defense against civil suits.

In Albany, N.Y., one alleged victim claimed in a 2002 lawsuit that his church-approved therapist - a nun - pressured him to not hire a lawyer. The diocese denied the allegation.

Abuse survivors in Toledo, Ohio, complained when the diocese said victims would need approval from a church-appointed panel of psychologists if they wanted more than 25 counseling sessions.

Officials at several dioceses declined to discuss their policies for counseling abuse victims, but some church administrators have previously defended the church's need to oversee therapy.

A case manager for the Toledo diocese, Frank DiLallo, told the Toledo Blade newspaper that the church felt a periodic review of victims progress in therapy was needed "to assure healing." Many dioceses conduct a similar reviews, and reserve the right to cut off payments if they determine that counseling is no longer helping.

In a letter to Baselice, the Franciscan order that was to pay for his therapy said it needed to monitor his progress "to ensure the maximum helpfulness of the counseling assistance," and to ensure that his counselors would be properly paid.

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia declined to comment on its offer of therapy to Baselice, except to say that counseling is never contingent on a victim's willingness to settle a civil suit.

Dr. Kenneth Pargament, professor of psychology at Bowling Green University, said that in choosing to be involved in therapy, the church is walking a difficult line.

"For victims who feel that the church, as an institution, is responsible for what happened to them, the idea of the church being in a position to evaluate how many sessions are beneficial just seems to add oil to the fire," Pargament said. "On the other hand, if the church doesn't intrude, if they are just providing the resources for healing, then for many people, that can be quite helpful."

John McDonnell, who claims that he and two brothers were molested in the 1950s by their parish priest in Philadelphia, said his own discussions with the archdiocese over counseling have been both encouraging and infuriating.

After some negotiation, the archdiocese cut him a substantial check to pay for several years worth of counseling and offered to pay for future therapy.

But other requests by the family have been turned down, including a demand that the church pay housing costs for one of the brothers who is hospitalized at a state psychiatric hospital, and who the family says has been unable to hold a job for 25 years.

The family finally sued, seeking damages for what it claims was a conspiracy by church leaders to protect abusive priests.

"The archdiocese's way of dealing with all of these things is to not do anything about anything until you become a pest to them," McDonnell said. "My feeling is that they've really provided no assistance at all."

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests