By Paul Duggan The Washington Post
A Catholic priest who consulted with psychologists and fellow members of the clergy at the time he was committing sexual assaults In the early 1980s was ordered by a Montgomery County judge yesterday to release those counselors from any professional obligations to remain silent.
If the Rev. Peter M. McCutcheon obeys the order, lawyers said, the psychologists and priests may feel free to give depositions in a negligence lawsuit filed against McCutcheon and the Archdiocese of Washington by one victim’s family. But if McCutcheon continues to assert a legal right to keep the consultations private, he could be jailed tomorrow.
Yesterday’s order by Circuit Court Judge Stanley B. Frosh ended a tense hearing during which Frosh testily suggested that the defendants were “stonewalling” the plaintiffs’ attempts to gather evidence. McCutcheon’s attorney, Albert D. Brault, accused Frosh of showing bias toward the plaintiffs and called the hearing “out of control.”
Brault argued that his client could rightfully invoke the legal privileges of confidentiality that apply to psychologists and their patients, as well as to clerics and those seeking spiritual guidance.
But Frosh repeated an earlier ruling that neither privilege applies in this case.
Lawyers said Frosh is attempting to move the case along by helping the counselors avoid the dilemma of choosing to obey the judge’s order or abide by McCutcheon’s wishes.
Attorneys for the family are seeking to show that before McCutcheon pleaded guilty in Prince George’s County in 1986 to molesting three youths, archdiocesan officials “knew or should have known that [McCutcheon] was a substance abuser, homosexual and active pedophile.” They allege that church officials were negligent in allowing him to remain a parish priest.
By taking depositions from psychologists and clerics with whom McCutcheon may have consulted, the family’s attorneys said, they hope to learn whether McCutcheon’s pedophilia was brought to the attention of higher church officials. In court pleadings, the archdiocese has denied knowing of McCutcheon’s pedophilia before his arrest.
McCutcheon, who was ordained In 1979 and is still a priest, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 1986. The sentence was reduced this year to probation, provided he enter a church run treatment center In New Mexico. He traveled to Montgomery from the center to appear at yesterday’s hearing.
As part of his defense in the lawsuit, McCutcheon has argued that he should not be held responsible for molesting the youths because he was driven to It by a psychological condition, pedophilia. Frosh has ruled that by raising the issue of mental fitness, McCutcheon, in effect, waived the right to keep his psychological records confidential.
As for the privacy of his consultations with other clerics, McCutcheon was asked in a deposition several months ago whether he had discussed his pedophilia under the sanctity of the confessional, or while seeking spiritual advice.
McCutcheon replied that he had done so with only two priests, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. As a result, Frosh ruled that the confidentiality privilege applies only for those two instances.
James C. “Beau” Brincefield, Jr., one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said after the hearing that McCutcheon has “threatened reprisals” against any psychologist or cleric who gives a deposition about their counseling sessions.
“He threatened to sue them, report them to professional societies, take any reprisals that are legally available,” Brincefield said.
Brault would not comment on the case.
Reprinted from The Washington Post, Thurday, September 15, 1988.