Former Priest Convicted of Abuse: Boston Archdiocese Clergy, Laity Reeling under Latest Revelations (Nation)

By Colbert, Chuck; Donovan, Gill | National Catholic Reporter, February 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Former Priest Convicted of Abuse: Boston Archdiocese Clergy, Laity Reeling under Latest Revelations (Nation)


Colbert, Chuck, Donovan, Gill, National Catholic Reporter


Local diocesan members of the clergy are reeling and dealing as best they can with the continuing story of alleged sexual abuse and misconduct of a former colleague, the now-defrocked priest, John J. Geoghan.

Middlesex Superior Court recently found Geoghan, 66, guilty of sexually abusing a 10-year old boy in a suburban Boston public swimming pool a decade ago.

In a related development, the Suffolk County Superior Court released previously sealed documents and letters that show Geoghan receiving gentle treatment from members of the hierarchy who demonstrate little concern for the victims of his abuse.

Though the conviction is the least serious of the three criminal cases, Geoghan could be sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison for the crime. Judge Sandra Hamlin has ordered Geoghan to undergo psychiatric evaluation for 30 days prior to sentencing.

The laicized priest faces Two more criminal cases -- with allegations of rape and sexual assault -- scheduled to go to trial in nearby Suffolk Superior Court in the coming months.

Following the conviction, Boston Cardinal Bernard Law said that the Geoghan case and his handling of it has been "the most difficult thing I've had to face in my whole life."

Geoghan is to begin his second trial Feb. 20 for charges that he raped a 7-year-old boy, The archdiocese has reportedly settled 50 civil suits with Geoghan's alleged victims for more than $10 million. More than 80 other civil trials are pending.

Geoghan, who was ordained in 1962, was retired from active ministry in 1994. The following year news reports about his sexual abuse of children began to surface and more victims came forward, unveiling a pattern over decades in which Geoghan gained access to children, faced accusations, received psychiatric treatment and returned to work, supposedly cured. As press reports of abuse mounted, he was involuntarily laicized in 1998.

The victim in the assault trial, now a 20-year-old college student, testified that in 1991 Geoghan approached him at a swimming pool, offering to teach him to dive. After 10 to 15 minutes of verbal coaching, he said, the priest put his hand under his shorts in the pool and squeezed his buttocks.

New Orleans' new archbishop, Alfred C. Hughes, who was Geoghan's surpervisor in Boston at the time of the incident, was among the witnesses who testified against Geoghan. Hughes said that after receiving a warning that Geoghan's "proselytizing" at the pool could be "open to prurient interpretation," Hughes instructed Geoghan to stay away from the pool. Hughes said, however, that he had not received word of an assault when he gave Geoghan the order.

Geoghan did not testify at the trial.

The jury deliberated about eight hours before delivering its verdict.

News reports of the court trial and numerous pending charges have been ricocheting throughout the local archdiocese for more than two weeks, making local headlines in both daily newspapers, The Boston Globe and Boston Herald, as well as grabbing airtime in local broadcast outlets throughout the city.

Details surfaced

On Jan. 6, details of Geoghan's history of sexual abuse surfaced when the Globe began a several-part "Spotlight" series, reporting not only the charges and allegations, but also the pending release of thousands of legal documents, depositions, psychiatric reports, memoranda, and other correspondence relevant to the Geoghan case. The Globe fought successfully in court to have the documents released to the public.

The documents, released Jan. 23, reveal the archdiocese's gentle treatment of Geoghan and a near-complete disregard for Geoghan's victims. Letters to Geoghan from former Boston Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros and from Bernard Law, Boston's current leader, are void of criticism.

Among the released documents was a 1996 letter from Law to Geoghan in which Law wrote: "Yours has been an effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness. …

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