Friday, March 30, 2012

Sex abuse victims claim conflict in care process

AT LEAST seven victims of abuse by Catholic priests have lodged complaints with the Psychology Board of Australia against the Melbourne church's psychologist employed to co-ordinate their care.

The first was in 2001 and the most recent last month, in which a victim says the psychologist, Susan Sharkey, sat in on a meeting with the psychologist she appointed for him and later edited the transcript to fit her own diagnosis.

Each victim has had complaints of abuse upheld by the Melbourne Response. 

Allegations against Ms Sharkey include conflict of interest, breach of trust, breaking confidentiality and disrespectful and coercive conduct. 

According to the Melbourne Archdiocese, Ms Sharkey denies all the allegations.

The seven victims lodged nine complaints.  

The Age believes that five complaints have been rejected, one referred to a professional standards panel and one resulted in recommendations to Ms Sharkey. Two have yet to be resolved.

Several of the victims say Ms Sharkey, co-ordinator of the Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese Carelink service, refused to deal with them because of their complaints, denying them services and causing further trauma.

A lawyer who helped five victims said the treatment amounted to secondary abuse. ''The main thing that bothered me was the secondary trauma and victimisation, the absolute lack of respect or understanding of where they are coming from.''

The lawyer, who did not want to be named, said: ''There's a sense in which they are daunted and overwhelmed. It's as though the Melbourne Response tries to create self-doubt.''

In the most recent complaint, the victim told The Age that Ms Sharkey sat in on his meeting in January with a psychiatrist, though he was unhappy about that because she is a Catholic. 

At the meeting she argued with him about his negative views of the church, and also told him "we think you are a drug-induced schizophrenic", which he denied.

In February, Ms Sharkey met the victim to show him the psychiatric report, in which the information he provided had been changed to fit the diagnosis of drug-induced schizophrenia, he said. Other parts, particularly his criticism of the church, were omitted. Ms Sharkey refused to give him a copy of the report.

Another complainant, Noreen Wood, said about 100 counselling sessions paid for by the Jesuits were held in restaurants and Ms Sharkey had acted as her advocate in discussing compensation from the Jesuits while, unknown to her, also acting for the Jesuits and the Catholic Church.

Jim Boyle, who was recognised as a secondary victim after his brother Gavan was abused, said Ms Sharkey abruptly terminated her professional relationship with him after he criticised Carelink's care of Gavan. He said private personal matters that Ms Sharkey undertook to keep confidential were communicated to archdiocesan lawyer Richard Leder.

The psychology board rejected his complaint on the grounds that Ms Sharkey's relationship with him was not therapeutic but administrative. 

Mr Boyle wrote back, saying the psychologists' code of ethics made no such distinction.

"She argues confidentiality just relates to viewing confidential files, but I was told explicitly by Sharkey and [psychologist Ball] that everything that happens here is totally confidential, even from the archdiocese paying the bills," Mr Boyle said.

Another victim, Shelley Thomson, said Ms Sharkey had refused to acknowledge her as a client of Carelink for five years from June 2006. 

The board told Ms Thomson it had recommended to Ms Sharkey she take care to be clear to victims about her role at Carelink and about the purpose of meetings.

Ms Thomson complained again last year about different matters, but she was told on March 6 that the complaint was not upheld. The next day her lawyer was told that Carelink had made an appointment for her with a Brisbane psychiatrist. She lives on the Sunshine Coast.

"There was no by-your-leave, or is it all right with you, or will you be there, or can you get to Brisbane,'' she said. ''But at least it [care] is back on again."

The victims say Ms Sharkey should have stood down while the complaints were heard, but instead she and the archdiocese are punishing them by withholding payments and services. 

The church says it is appropriate for Ms Sharkey not to talk to them while the complaints are heard but denies withholding support.

Ms Sharkey did not speak to The Age, but Melbourne Archdiocese business manager Francis Moore said Ms Sharkey "absolutely rejects the allegations of wrongdoing".

Mr Moore said: "It [archdiocese] has confidence in Ms Sharkey and her professionalism. It considers the complaints to be unfounded."