Two women who have accused a Baltimore priest of sexually abusing them when they were high school students in the late 1960s suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their experiences, two scientists testified yesterday.
The women were evaluated separately, but Dr. Neil Blumberg, a psychiatrist, and Lawrence Donner, a psychologist, reached similar diagnoses that they said accounted for the women's loss of memory after they left Archbishop Keough High School in the early 1970s.
Dr. Blumberg evaluated one of the women, known for legal purposes as Jane Roe, and Dr. Donner the other, known as Jane Doe. The scientists testified in Baltimore Circuit Court before Judge Hilary D. Caplan.
The two said the disorder's origin lies in the alleged abuse by the Rev. A. Joseph Maskell while the women were students at the Catholic girls school in Southwest Baltimore, where the priest was chaplain and counselor from 1967 to 1975.
Lawyers for Father Maskell and his co-defendants argued that there is no reliable basis for the scientists' conclusions that the women began suffering from the disorder 25 years ago and didn't begin recovering memories until 20 years later.
The women have filed a lawsuit asked for damages totaling $40 million against Father Maskell; the Archdiocese of Baltimore; the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who run Keough; and Dr. Christian Richter, a retired Ruxton gynecologist who is accused of molesting one of the women in collaboration with the priest.
Judge Caplan will decide whether the women's claims of memory recall are sufficient for an exception to a three-year statute of limitations that usually applies to civil suits.
In interviews with The Sun, Father Maskell and Dr. Richter have denied any sexual improprieties.
Post-traumatic stress disorder was recognized by the American xTC Psychiatric Association after it began appearing in Vietnam War veterans.
Dr. Blumberg and Dr. Donner said that although they examined as many records, reports and corroborative witness statements as they could, they essentially based their diagnoses on histories provided by the women during their examinations.
They said the women described symptoms consistent with the disorder, including fear of retaliation; horror at what allegedly occurred; efforts to avoid contacts or thoughts associated with the alleged incidents; distressing and intrusive recollections; and an inability to recall important aspects of the alleged incidents.
Dr. Blumberg said psychiatric diagnosis is based on patient histories. He said Ms. Roe, the recently remarried mother of four children, began to suffer from the disorder "shortly after the sexual abuse began and as a direct result of it."
Dr. Donner said he conducted a six-hour, 45-minute evaluation of Ms. Doe in September 1993. The session included an extensive psychological tests and a long interview.
He said he concluded that since 1972, Ms. Doe has suffered memory loss from a dissociative disorder that led her at one point to believe she was possessed by the devil and to "speak in tongues."
He said Ms. Doe felt overwhelmed by thoughts of the alleged sexual abuse and thought she was "a slut, a whore, that she was dirty and caused men to do things to her."
Witnesses for the defense, led by Dr. Paul McHugh, chairman of the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, are to begin testimony today.