by William Van Ornum, Ph.D. on
This week brings an intriguing story from Germany that raises questions concerning the duty to warn others when there is imminent danger of behaviors such as child abuse, suicide, or violent behaviors.
In a story reported by the New York Times, a German psychiatrist has made public allegations that he warned a Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Germany that a priest whom he had seen in therapy had abused children and was at risk to do so in the future.
Did this professional fulfill his obligation?
Tarina Tarasoff was a co-ed at the University of California. A former boyfriend expressed specific threats to kill her. Her therapist and college supervisor warned the campus police, but in vain. Ms. Tarasoff was murdered. In 1973, the court ruled in Tarasoff v California Board of Regents that mental-health professionals have the duty to warn THE INTENDED VICTIM of imminent and intentional harm.
There is no doubt that the Roman Catholic Church should immediately remove priests confirmed as child abusers from ministry with children.
But did the German psychiatrist also have the duty to warn others, a duty neglected? Should he have warned the parents in the parish where this priest was stationed? Should he have warned the German police? Should he have warned the German equivalent of Child Protective Services.
Now one might conclude, “In the 1980s, it was not common practice in Germany to notify intended victims of abuse. It was not practice to notify the police of an imminent crime. Perhaps there was no equivalent of Child Protective Services in Germany at the time.”
Does such a conclusion remind us of Church the official that says, “It was the custom of the time to believe therapy could heal child abusers”?
What is the point? Yes, the Church and its hierarchy did not protect children. This was, and is, wrong.
But what about others who say that they reported abuse or suspected abuse to the Church but to no one else?. Don’t, or didn’t, they also have the clear moral obligation to make the police, protective services, and even parents in a parish aware of any threat?
It’s a provocative question.
The full New York Times article is at: