But as the Roman Catholic Church struggles with the latest scandal involving the sexual abuse of minors, the efforts of the church-run psychiatric center and its self-reported success rate are under new scrutiny, with critics saying the facility has been too willing to let potentially dangerous priests return to the ministry in order to please church officials heavily invested in the priests' training and recovery.
Current and past officials with St. Luke dispute that suggestion. They say that far from being part of the problem in the roiling Catholic sexual abuse scandal, the center - with its blend of progressive art and drama therapy, drug treatment and exhaustive group and 12-step counseling sessions - is part of the solution.
An internal study of the more than 450 priests who underwent the center's six-month treatment program between 1985 and 1995 showed only three of the men relapsed - a conclusion based on reports from the men themselves, their church supervisors or law enforcement officials.
Center officials say few of the priests they treat are ever returned to their old duties or allowed to work again with young people.
"I never had pressure from any bishop to send a priest back and, in many cases, we had people who we thought were able to go back, and we had a hard time convincing any bishops to take them," said the Rev. Canice Connors, a past president of St. Luke.
The current church crisis, however, has focused new attention on St. Luke's role in advising the church on whether known sexual offenders should be returned to ministry. In several high-profile cases, church officials knew about sexual abuse allegations - and had priests evaluated or treated at St. Luke - but still shuttled them from parish to parish.
As those and other cases unfolded, they exposed rare fault lines between the church and the psychiatric facilities it has relied on for years.
The staff at the Institute of Living, reacting to a suggestion from New York Cardinal Edward Egan that the church relied on faulty psychiatric evaluations in reassigning priests accused of abuse, said recently that church leaders gave them limited background information on troubled priests and then ignored their treatment advice.
The head of the St. Luke Institute, in an interview last week, drew a sharp distinction between the center's role and the church's in placing priests who are known sexual offenders. The Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti said his facility can only make a recommendation about a priest's future - it is up to the church to decide what happens after that.
But Rossetti, who said he could not talk about Geoghan or other cases, signaled that St. Luke continues its close, cordial relationship with the church.
"There's the impression that people are being given, that [priests accused of sexual abuse] are all going back" to their parishes, he said. "That's just not been my impression.
"What I've been seeing is the bishops take it very, very seriously. They send them to treatment and, the majority of times, they're removed from ministry completely."
St. Luke's treatment regimen has been praised for years as one of the country's most rigorous programs for child abusers.
"St. Luke's has, in my estimation, an excellent staff, and I think their program was set on a very solid medical model," said A.W. Richard Sipe, a psychologist and former priest who was one of the first to study and write about the church's sex abuse problems.