Saint Luke Institute

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Saint Luke Institute
Founded 1977
Type NGO
Purpose Private mental health treatment and education
  • Washington, D.C.
Region served
United States and International
Affiliations St. Luke's Centre, Manchester, England; Saint Luke Center, Louisville, KY; Caritas Counseling, Baltimore, MD; St. Louis Consultation Center, St. Louis, MO
US$7.0 million (2006)

Saint Luke Institute (SLI) is a private, licensed mental health education and treatment facility headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland. The institute primarily serves Roman Catholic priests and religious women and men through integrated psychological and spiritual evaluations, residential care, continuing care and outpatient therapy. Education in support of healthy life and ministry for those in the Catholic Church is offered online and in-person through SLIconnect. Individuals come to Saint Luke for treatment for a variety of reasons, including depression, addictions, anxiety, boundary issues and other mental and spiritual health needs. Saint Luke Center in Louisville, KY, offers education, candidate assessments and individual and group therapy.

Programs and services[edit]

Saint Luke Institute offers a range of education and treatment services for Catholic religious, including the following:[1]

  • Evaluations 5-day assessment (physical, psychological and spiritual) for clergy and religious
  • Residential Program for men to address critical psychological, spiritual and physical needs in a healing, Catholic environment. The average stay is six months.
  • Talitha-Life Program, a residential program designed by and for women, to meet the unique needs of Catholic religious sisters.
  • Halfway House a transitional program for individuals who need more therapeutic time after the residential program in a step-down setting or for those who are transitioning out of ministry
  • Spirituality Program to renew the spiritual life of the priests and religious who come for treatment; includes Catholic Mass, regular retreats, an outside confessor, spiritual assessments, prayer sessions and spiritual direction
  • Continuing Care Program to help former residents successfully transition back to their diocese or religious community; includes a re-entry workshop, support group and signed contract between the therapist and client, which outlines an ongoing program, typically lasting five years.
  • Caritas Counseling Center to provide outpatient individual and group therapy for clergy, men and women religious, and laity in the Washington, DC and Baltimore metro regions who are struggling with a range of psychological, spiritual and emotional needs. Saint Luke Center provides outpatient therapy for clergy and religious in Louisville, KY and the St. Louis Consultation Center in St. Louis, MO.
  • Consultation clinical staff support for bishops, provincials and other church leaders in addressing wellness and intervention needs
  • Candidate assessments to assist seminaries, dioceses and religious communities in the discernment process of a candidate
  • Education, including webinars, in-person programs, conferences and the Lukenotes and Connections newsletters, designed to promote healthy life and ministry of Catholic clergy and religious.

Affiliate – St. Luke’s Centre, England[edit]

The St. Luke’s Centre (SLC) is an independent, sister organization located in Manchester, England, that supports the health and well-being of Catholic clergy and religious throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. The centre was formed at the request of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, developed by Saint Luke Institute leadership in cooperation with Catholic leadership in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and operates in close association with Saint Luke Institute.

The centre provides outpatient psychotherapy and spiritual direction, week-long clinical assessments for priests and religious in psychological difficulty, educational and consultation services, and a continuing care program for those who have completed a residential program elsewhere. After a clinical assessment, if residential treatment is indicated, referrals are usually made to Saint Luke Institute in Maryland, U.S. One of SLC’s main functions is to perform candidate assessments for aspirants to the priesthood or religious life. A considerable number of dioceses in England, for example, use SLC to screen its candidates for the priesthood.

St. Luke’s Centre is a registered charity, with its own board of trustees. It operates in compliance with national and international standards for specialized risk assessment and other psychological assessments.


Saint Luke Institute was founded in 1977 by Reverend Michael Peterson, M.D., a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington. Peterson, who trained as a psychiatrist at the University of California San Francisco before entering the priesthood, sought to bring advances in mental health treatment to priests, particularly those with substance abuse issues.[2]

Initially, the institute was a collaborative effort with the Marsalin Institute in Holliston, Massachusetts, which was headed by Father Jerome Hayden, also a priest psychiatrist. When Hayden died in 1977, Peterson became the leader of both organizations although the organizations remained separate legal and clinical entities. The Marsalin Institute facility was converted from a home for emotionally disturbed boys to a treatment facility for alcoholic clergy. Eventually the Holliston, MA, location was closed leaving the one program in Suitland, Maryland.

Saint Luke Institute, like the Marsalin Institute before it, emphasized the importance of holistic care that addressed the physical, psychological and spiritual needs of its clients. In 1981, Saint Luke Institute began residential program for men in Suitland, Maryland, primarily addressing the addictions of alcoholic clergy. A few years later, institute services expanded to address mental health issues that frequently occurred alongside substance abuse. Based on his work at the Institute, Peterson became convinced that child sexual abuse among Catholic clergy was a serious and urgent issue. The Institute expanded its program to include the treatment of child sexual abuse and sexual compulsivity.

In April 1987, Peterson died from complications related to AIDS.[2] His death understandably created some controversy. However, under the strong leadership of Cardinal James Hickey, the Archbishop of Washington and Chair of the Board of Saint Luke Institute, the institute was able to continue its mission.

Peterson was succeeded by Msgr. Robert E. Bacher,[3] who had served as Executive Secretary of United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation. Under Bacher’s leadership, the institute continued the expansion of its capabilities beyond substance abuse and sexual disorders. The institute’s holistic care was brought to those suffering from depression, anxiety, compulsive behaviors including gambling, overeating and other personality disorders.

In 1992, Father Canice Connors, OFM Conv. was appointed as the third president of Saint Luke Institute. A psychologist, Connors was the former president of Southdown, a psychological treatment center for religious founded near Toronto, Canada, in 1965. Connors oversaw the continuing growth of Saint Luke Institute, including its move to its larger, current facility in Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1996.

Connors’ tenure in the early 1990s coincided with increased surfacing of accusations of child sexual abuse against some priests in the U.S. Several of these men were assessed or received treatment at Saint Luke Institute (see Criticism and Controversy section below). Connors became a leader in national efforts to bridge communications between the Church hierarchy and victims of abuse.[4] This included chairing a 1993 “think tank” for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on sexual abuse. Connors’ eventual successor, Father Stephen J. Rossetti, was a member of the think tank, which produced "Recommendations of the 'Think Tank' on Child Sexual Abuse," published by the USCCB’s Secretariat for Priestly Life and Ministry later that year. They said, “We are concerned that the hierarchy’s authority and credibility in the United States is eroding because of a perceived inability to deal more effectively with the problem of child sexual abuse…We urge the bishops to respond to this tragedy decisively, pastorally, and immediately.”[5] Many of the recommendations were eventually adopted nationally after the 2002 sexual abuse crisis erupted.

From 1996 to 2009 and 2013-2014, Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti served as president of Saint Luke Institute. Rossetti first began working at the institute in 1993. He soon assumed additional responsibilities as the Institute’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. Rossetti continued to expand the role of Catholic spirituality in the Institute (which began under his predecessor Fr. Connors) and to strengthen its Catholic identity. In collaboration with the Archbishop of Washington, Rossetti periodically requested an archdiocesan visitation in which clerical and psychiatric experts appointed by the Archdiocese inspect the institute for its compliance with Catholic theological and moral values. Visitation reports strongly praised the work of the Institute. For example, the 2003 report said: “In sum, it is our conclusion that Saint Luke Institute is a fully Catholic institution based on Catholic teaching and authentic spiritual and theological principles. Moreover, it is the conclusion of the visitation team that the ministry provided by Saint Luke Institute is important and vital for the welfare of the Catholic Church and worthy of strong support by Church leadership, as well as a model for the treatment of priests and religious everywhere.” [6]

It was during Rossetti’s tenure that a special residential program for women religious was developed. The program was developed by the women on staff and includes separate therapeutic programs and housing.[7]

Rossetti stepped down as the institute’s president in October 2009 to join the faculty of The Catholic University of America.[8] He was immediately succeeded by Monsignor Edward J. Arsenault, a priest of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire.[8] At Saint Luke Institute, he began an expansion into online education and added services in Louisville, KY and Baltimore, MD. Msgr. Arsenault resigned on May 3, 2013 and is now in prison. He was sentenced to 4 years and ordered to pay nearly $300,000 [9]

In the wake of Msgr. Arsenault's resignation, Msgr. Rossetti was asked to return as president.[10] Sheila Harron, Ph.D. was CEO. Rev. David Songy, O.F.M.Cap, S.T.D., Psy.D., a priest-psychologist from Denver, became president on January 1, 2015.[11]

In June 2013, Saint Luke Institute purchased the Saint Louis Consultation Center, which provides intensive outpatient psychological and spiritual treatment, education and candidate assessments. The organizations say the programs "will remain distinct."[12]

Governance and oversight[edit]

Saint Luke Institute is accredited by The Joint Commission (previously the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JAHCO)) and licensed by the State of Maryland. The Institute is a 501(c)(3)not-for-profit organization, with an independent board of mostly lay directors responsible for program and financial oversight. It is located within the Archdiocese of Washington.

Individual staff members are licensed as psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, massage therapists, physical therapists and counselors.

Criticism and controversy[edit]

Criticism of Saint Luke Institute has generally revolved around the issue of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Although the large majority of clients at Saint Luke are treated for other issues,[13] some have been treated for child sexual abuse.

The treatment of perpetrators of child sexual abuse has been a source of conflict around the U.S. Media reports often quote individuals who argue that pedophilia (a sexual attraction to pre-pubescent minors) cannot be “cured” and they object to any claims it can be. Clinicians who treat offenders often agree that these individuals cannot be “cured” but argue that relapse studies suggest that some offenders do respond well to treatment and, although they are not “cured,” they are less likely to re-offend. Thus, these clinicians argue not for a “cure” but for “successful treatment.” Several clinical studies [14] indicate that treatment outcomes vary greatly depending upon discernible characteristics among pedophiles and ephebophiles (a sexual attraction to post-pubescent minors).

In 2006 at the annual Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers conference, Gary Thompson, Ph.D. et al. presented a paper entitled “Differences in Relapse Risk Among Priest Child Molesters.” [15] They presented data from the Institute which said that the Institute had, from 1985 to 2005, treated 375 priests and male religious who had sexually molested minors and 22 were known to have relapsed (5.9%). They gathered this relapse data using not only re-arrest rates (typically used in relapse statistics), but also information from media reports, supervisors and peer reports, self-reports, and information provided by dioceses/religious orders. The Institute relapse rates are low, which likely are the result of its extended treatment and follow-up plus the nature of its clients whom they claim "tend to be higher functioning than typical incarcerated populations" that typically yield much higher relapse rates.

In 1997, the Institute began a policy of explicitly recommending to dioceses and religious orders that any priest with a confirmed history of the sexual abuse of minors, no matter how well he had done in treatment, never be returned to unsupervised contact with minors, ministry with minors or any one-to-one contact with minors. The recommendations of the Institute were simply recommendations since ministry decisions are made by the person's sponsoring diocese or religious order.

In 2002, with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, this restriction was expanded by the U.S. Bishops to include any form of public ministry (allegations also are to be reported to civil authorities). Thus, any kind of future ministry was denied to these offending priests.

This “zero tolerance” clause remains a source of controversy for some in the Church. While it means parishioners should feel reassured that no one is in ministry who has harmed a child, when the Church dismisses these men from the priesthood, the Church loses control over them and these offenders go unsupervised and unaccounted for. The argument is whether or not these offending priests are then less or more of a risk to minors than the previous policy of putting them in a supervised ministry with no contact with minors.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b ”Rev. Michael Peterson, Hospital Founder, Dies (1987, April 12) The New York Times retrieved from on February 27, 2009.
  3. ^ ”The Rev. Monsignor Robert E. Bacher.” (2008, April 16) Akron Beacon Journal from [].
  4. ^ Berry, J. (1993, June 13). “An Uneasy Coalition of Activists and Clerics is Forcing the Catholic Hierarchy to Confront the Problem of Sexually Abusive Priests.” Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ ”Recommendations of the 'Think Tank' on Child Sexual Abuse,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Priestly Life and Ministry, 1993.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Zimmermann, C. (2009, July 10). “Msgr. Rossetti to step down as head of St. Luke Institute.” Catholic News Service.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Hanson, R. Karl & Bussiere, Monique (1998). “Predicting Relapse: A meta-Analysis of Sexual Offender Recidivism Studies.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 566(2),” 348-362.
  15. ^ Thompson, G.; Montana, S. & Pulido, D. (2006, September). “Differences in Relapse Risk Among Priest Child Molesters: Implications for Policy Decisions in the Catholic Church.” Presentation at the Annual Convention of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, Chicago, Illinois.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 39°0′10″N 76°58′49″W / 39.00278°N 76.98028°W / 39.00278; -76.98028