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Opinionated Jesuit psychiatrist loses confidence of peers

The willingness of a Massachusetts Jesuit psychiatrist to pass judgments on priests accused of sex abuse without meeting them has previously angered victims' rights advocates.

The highly charged testimonies of Dr Edwin "Ned" Cassem SJ had been eagerly sought in clergy abuse cases. Howeer his insistence that he has no need to meet certain accused priests before passing judgment on them has provoked his peers to brand his behaviour as unethical.

In a deposition released last week, Cassem said he saw no need to meet the Fathers James Foley, Jay Mullin, Paul R. Shanley and Paul Tivnan before giving often harshly worded assessments of them to Archdiocese of Boston officials.

One reason, he said, was because he expected them to "lie."

Those comments - and testimony in which Cassem spoke of Shanley as a "scumbag" and said "castration would have been too good for him" - were called "unsettling" by Dr Spencer Eth of New York Medical College, chairman of the American Psychiatric Association's Ethics Committee.

"This type of testimony would have to be seriously investigated by a psychiatric ethics committee," Eth said. "That sounds like behaviour that raises ethical questions regarding the competency of that psychiatric activity."

Cassem's willingness to pass judgments on plaintiffs without meeting them has previously angered victims' rights advocates.

Section 7, paragraph 3 of the profession's Principles of Medical Ethics reads: "It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion (of persons in the public eye) unless he/she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorisation for such a statement."

Boston Herald

Ex-churchleaders said to hide data (Boston Globe 12/7/03)
Church files raise questions on claims of panel psychiatrist (15/12/02)
Catholic Diocese Orders Training to Prevent Sexual Abuse (WBAY TV News)
Dioceses continue to address abuse; two more priests jailed (Catholic News Service)

23 Jul 2003