Member of Sex Abuse Panel Upsets Some

New York Times/July 26, 2002
By Anthony DePalma and Laurie Goodstein

With memories, some from long ago, at the heart of many reports that priests committed sexual abuse, the appointment to a national lay board of a prominent psychiatrist who has crusaded against the validity of repressed memories has upset victims' groups and reignited a fierce debate among psychiatric professionals.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Paul R. McHugh, is former chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. He has been one of the strongest critics of psychiatric therapy based on the technique that traumatic experiences, especially in young people, can be subconsciously repressed for years.

Dr. McHugh has testified on behalf of accused sexual abusers, including at least one priest, who faced the statements of adults who said they had repressed memories of molestation for years before recovering them. In one case that went as far as the Supreme Court, Dr. McHugh testified that the accusers' memories of abuse were, in fact, false.

There are few issues in psychiatry more controversial than repressed memory. Other psychiatrists who work extensively with victims say Dr. McHugh's strong positions against repressed memory and his longstanding support for the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, an organization in Philadelphia that challenges statements that support repressed memory, will add skepticism to reports of clergy abuse.

"This appointment is an insult to victims and to professionals who have worked to present balanced and scientifically and theoretically sound paradigms of trauma," said Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in New York who addressed the Roman Catholic bishops who gathered last month in Dallas to lay out a plan for dealing with the sexual-abuse scandals that have shaken the church.

"The fact," Ms. Frawley-O'Dea said, "that he was affiliated with this organization to me disqualifies him for being on this particular panel at this particular time in the history of the church."

Another therapist, Dr. Richard B. Gartner, also of New York, said Dr. McHugh's appointment to the board set up by the bishops to review the plan on sexual abuse developed in Dallas sent a negative message to victims and to church members across the United States.

"Up until now, people have not been questioning the veracity of the victims' stories," Dr. Gartner, president of the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization, said. "This reveals the mindset of how the church intends to deal with this problem."

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops today restated its support of Dr. McHugh and the role he will have on the panel, which is to meet for the first time next week.

"Dr. McHugh is a distinguished psychiatrist and an administrator of one of our finest universities," Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco, a spokesman for the bishops' group, said. "It seems to me that his position on the board does not relate specifically to those theories about memory. He's not going to be evaluating individual cases, but evaluating whether the dioceses are responding to the standards set out in the charter adopted in Dallas."

Dr. McHugh is one of 12 lay Catholics appointed to the board, which Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma heads. Among the other panel members named on Wednesday are Jane J. Chiles of the Catholic Health Association; Pamela D. Hayes, a lawyer and former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn; and Nicholas P. Cafardi, dean of the Duquesne University Law School.

Victims' groups criticized Mr. Cafardi's appointment, because he was counsel for the Pittsburgh Diocese for 13 years and continues to represent a number of religious orders. The victims contend that those affiliations will prevent him from acting independently of the church.

The victims' groups also criticized the bishops for not including any of their members, although a victim not affiliated with the groups was named to the board. He is Michael J. Bland, a former priest who was victimized by a priest. Mr. Bland works in the Victim Assistance Ministry of the Chicago Archdiocese.

The victims' groups were especially critical of Dr. McHugh's appointment.

"The bishops said they didn't want anyone who was part of a group," said Barbara A. Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "Yet McHugh has a history of being involved with this very controversial group."

Ms. Blaine was referring to Dr. McHugh's connection to the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which Pamela and Peter Freyd established in 1992 after their daughter, Jennifer, a psychologist, had accused her father of childhood sexual abuse.

Dr. McHugh said in an interview that he was proud of his support for the foundation, which he said had helped undermine the suppressed memory movement. But he said that most cases of clergy abuse did not involve recovered memories and that he believed that his work would not get in the way of his concern for the victims of priests.

"It is possible to be against false charges of abuse and to believe that true charges of abuse are deplorable, a crime, and ought to be done away with," he said.

Although he has testified on behalf of people accused of abuse, Dr. McHugh said, he will be able to look out adequately for the interests of the victims of priests who come forward. He has served on a lay board of the Baltimore Archdiocese that reviews child sexual abuse cases.

Dr. McHugh testified in 1995 at the trial in Baltimore of the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell. Two women said that Father Maskell had raped them 20 years earlier, but that they were unable to recall the incident for two decades.

Maryland courts rejected the use of recovered memory as evidence in the case. The women appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which declined in 1997 to hear the case.

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