Abusive Ex-Priest, John Geoghan, Is Killed
By DANIEL J. WAKIN and KATIE ZEZIMA
August 24, 2003
John J. Geoghan, the former priest whose abuse of children
over decades opened the door for a scandal that shook the
Roman Catholic Church, was strangled by another inmate in
a Massachusetts state prison, officials said yesterday.
Mr. Geoghan, who was defrocked in 1998, was serving a sentence
of 9 to 10 years at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center
in Shirley, a medium-security state prison 40 miles northwest
Another inmate, Joseph L. Druce, 37, will be charged with
murder, John J. Conte, the Worcester County district attorney,
said. An autopsy is to be conducted Monday, but "preliminary
indications" showed that Mr. Geoghan, 68, had been strangled,
Mr. Conte said.
In January 2002, Mr. Geoghan was convicted of groping a 10-year-old
boy in a pool and given the maximum sentence. Other criminal
charges were pending, as well as civil cases involving more
than 130 people who said he had abused them.
His case was among hundreds involving clergy members, but
the extent of his crimes and the mountain of church documents
released in lawsuits against him turned him into a symbol
of the church's sexual abuse scandal. "In many ways he
was a worst-case scenario because he was a serial sexual predator
whose behavior was facilitated by the hierarchy of the Archdiocese
of Boston, and the worst judgments were made in his case,"
Stephen Pope, a professor of theology at Boston College, said.
His case also showed the degree to which the Roman Catholic
hierarchy knew about problem priests and shuttled them among
parishes, showing what victims said was more concern for the
church's reputation than for the safety of children.
"Abusive priests were not news particularly," said
David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of
Those Abused by Priests. "But with Geoghan, for the first
time ever there was undeniable evidence that bishop after
bishop after bishop knew and did virtually nothing."
Mr. Geoghan's abuses date back to his first assignment as
a parish priest, at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Saugus, an
area north of Boston where he served from his ordination in
1962 until 1967. And they continued until the 1980's through
a swath of suburban Boston parishes, in the bedrooms of his
parishioners' children, at his family beachfront home, while
he prayed, even at a Boston Red Sox game, victims said.
All along, bishops and cardinals received warnings from parents
and some priests. He was sent for psychiatric treatment and
returned to ministry. For their part, the bishops said they
were only following the accepted psychiatric wisdom.
In the end, the revelations in the sexual abuse scandal led
to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who was succeeded
by Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley on July 30. The Massachusetts
attorney general released a report last month saying that
at least 789 children and probably more than 1,000 have been
sexually abused by 250 priests and other church workers in
the Archdiocese of Boston since 1940. The report also criticized
many former aides to Cardinal Law now serving elsewhere, including
Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, who will step down this fall
for a successor, and William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y.
The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Archdiocese
of Boston, called Mr. Geoghan's death tragic, The Associated
"The Archdiocese of Boston offers prayer for the repose
of John's soul," Father Coyne said, "and extends
its prayers in consolation to his beloved sister, Cathy, at
this time of personal loss."
While Mr. Geoghan achieved nationwide notoriety, the abuses
by James Porter of the Fall River, Mass., diocese became widely
known in the early 1990's, and the same was true of Rudolph
Kos in the Dallas Diocese about five years later. Another
notorious priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, the Rev. Paul
R. Shanley, 72, was indicted last June on charges that he
raped and assaulted four boys at a Newton, Mass., church from
1979 to 1989.
But the Geoghan revelations showed the extent of the archdiocese's
actions regarding abusive priests. They became clear when
a judge ordered it to release files in abuse lawsuits in January
2002. And as the scandal began growing in Boston, scrutiny
of dioceses around the country turned up similar accusations
of cover-ups and led to the suspension of more than 300 priests.
The scandal led to an extraordinary summoning of the nation's
cardinals to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope John Paul
II the next April. Several months later, the nation's bishops
adopted sweeping guidelines to protect children.
"The entire country, I would argue, and certainly every
single Catholic, owes an enormous debt to the men and women
who he victimized and were strong enough to come forward,"
Mr. Clohessy said of Mr. Geoghan. But he added, "Despite
the horrific damage he caused, no one deserves to die like
A lawyer for many of Mr. Geoghan's victims, Mitchell Garabedian
of Boston, said that 147 people had come to him since 1994
saying they were abused by Mr. Geoghan. He said his clients
would rather have seen Mr. Geoghan serve time in jail and
undergo more trials, so more details about his activity could
be made public.
"Many of my clients have never expressed any vindictiveness
whatsoever," he said.
Mr. Garabedian said 26 people who said they were abused by
Mr. Geoghan were the subject of settlement talks between lawyers
for 542 victims of sexual abuse and the archdiocese. The archdiocese
offered $55 million to resolve those claims on Aug. 8, and
made a second offer of $65 million last week. Last year, Mr.
Garabedian reached a $10 million settlement with the archdiocese
for 86 victims of Mr. Geoghan. Mr. Garabedian said the civil
cases would continue.
The man accused of killing Mr. Geoghan, Mr. Druce, was serving
a life sentence. Mr. Conte said that he received the sentence
in 1989 for murder, armed robbery and other counts, The Associated
Press reported. In 2001, Mr. Druce was charged with an anthrax
hoax, the news agency added.
Mr. Geoghan was attacked shortly before noon and was pronounced
dead at the University of Massachusetts Memorial Health Alliance
Hospital in Leominster at 1:17 p.m., the prosecutor said.
Professor Pope, the theologian, said it was troubling that
an inmate convicted of one of the most despised crimes among
prisoners sexual abuse of a child was left vulnerable.
"It's an irony that his criminal behavior was facilitated
by a church that was negligent, and now his death was facilitated
by a criminal justice system that was negligent," he
Mr. Geoghan had been living in a protective custody unit,
which held 24 inmates, a Department of Correction spokeswoman,
Kelly Nantel, said. Inmates in the unit sleep in individual
cells, but can mingle during the day, Ms. Nantel said, and
are placed based on the nature of their convictions, their
notoriety or whether they have enemies.
Phil Saviano, founder of the New England chapter of the Survivors
Network, said he worried many of his victims might feel responsible
for Mr. Geoghan's death.
"He needed to be off the streets and away from children,"
he said, "but that prison sentence was never meant to
be a death sentence."