The Franciscans are considering a challenge based on the psychotherapist-patient privilege, according to their attorney, Brian Brosnahan.
“The court’s decision will make it impossible for religious and other organizations to use psychotherapy to detect and treat their members who are accused of sexual abuse,” Brosnahan said.
In a unanimous ruling Thursday, September 30, the three justices said documents should be made public, which means thousands of pages of the medical, psychiatric, disciplinary and other personnel files on the friars, are to be made available for public viewing.
A large part of the case stems the events at St. Anthony’s Seminary in Santa Barbara, from 1964 to 1987.
Local attorney Tim Hale represented some of the victims in a multi-million dollar settlement.
But for Hale and many of those abused, it was never about the money; it is about opening the books that conceal the seminary’s dark secrets.
Judge Peter Lichtman agrees.
“All citizens have a compelling interest in knowing if a prominent and powerful institution has cloaked in secrecy decades of sexual abuse revealed in the psychiatric records of counselors who continued to have intimate contact with vulnerable children while receiving treatment for their tendencies toward child molestation,” Lichtman wrote in his opinion.
But the ruling is more far-reaching than the public may realize right now Brosnahan says, characterizing it as a detriment to the process used by ministries and organizations to prevent future abuse.
“The Court has ruled that as soon as the psychotherapist reports the diagnosis and treatment recommendations back to the Franciscans, the psychotherapist-patient privilege is lost and the reports become public information. The obvious consequence of this is that accused friars will not be candid with the psychotherapist and will not cooperate in diagnosis or treatment.”
And in what may provide a glimpse into the Franciscans’ legal strategy Brosnahan said, “This will render psychotherapy useless as a tool to detect and treat sexual offenders.”
They have 45 days to file to petition for review.
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