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Treatment center says it’s barred from giving priests’ records to DA

Citing patient confidentiality laws, the treatment center where the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sent priests accused of molestation says it is legally barred from turning over records to prosecutors in the looming child sex abuse trial of four current and former priests.

In a motion filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, a lawyer for the St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown asked a judge to quash Philadelphia prosecutors' subpoena for one patient's files. The motion says the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act prohibits it from releasing the records.

The motion doesn't identify the patient, except to say he was treated there from Feb. 18, 1993 until Oct. 22, 1993. Those match the treatment dates for defendant Edward Avery, a former priest arrested in February.

Avery, another priest and a former Catholic schoolteacher face trial next March on charges that they raped or molested the same altar boy at St. Jerome's in Northeast Philadelphia in the late 1990s.

Each pleaded not guilty.

According to a grand jury report released in February, Avery was removed from his assignment in a Mount Airy parish in 1993 and admitted to St. John Vianney after a 29-year-old medical student asserted in a letter that Avery molested him when he was an altar boy in the 1970s.

After six months, Avery was discharged from the facility with recommendations for "a ministry excluding adolescents." He was assigned to work at a hospital and allowed to live and celebrate Mass at St. Jerome's.

The grand jury report said that archdiocesan officials didn't formally investigate the medical student's claim against Avery until 2002. He was removed from ministry the following year and defrocked in 2006. He now lives in Haverford.

St. John's Vianney is owned and operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. A 2005 grand jury report questioned the integrity of some of its treatment decisions, calling it "a facility under Cardinal (Anthony) Bevilacqua's purview and supervision and more attuned to his priorities."

The motion to quash the subpoena offers no detail about the hospital's treatment, and notes that it keeps only limited records for patients after eight years.

Kevin Raphael, a lawyer for the hospital and Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams, declined to comment. Both cited a gag order issued in the case by Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina.