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Geoghan became symbol of horror in church scandal

Robert O'Neill
August 25, 2003

For more than three decades, John Geoghan molested nearly 150 boys entrusted to his care. He would seek out boys from broken homes, ingratiate himself with their families, then abuse his young charges during trips to Fenway Park, out for ice cream, visits to their homes, even in the rectory.

His abuses cut a wide swath through parishes within the Boston Archdiocese - and he came to symbolize the horrors of pedophile priests and the exhaustive steps church hierarchy would take to keep the allegations under wraps.

Then, in January 2002, a judge ordered the archdiocese to release internal documents related to Geoghan's case - and the paperwork told a disturbing story: The archdiocese had been well aware of the allegations, but simply moved Geoghan from parish to parish to try to avoid scandal.

"Geoghan personified the pedophile priest," said Jim Post, president of Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group organized after the abuse scandal broke. "And what people saw in the handling of Geoghan was the twisted logic, in which a church that is supposed to protect the innocent and punish the guilty protected the guilty and punished the innocent."

Geoghan, 68, was killed Saturday by another inmate at the maximum security Souza-Baranowski Corrections Center in Shirley, where he was serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for assault and battery on a 10-year-old boy.

Worcester County District Attorney John Conte said Geoghan appeared to have been strangled, though an autopsy was scheduled for today. The suspect, Joseph Druce, 37, was serving a life sentence for a 1988 murder.

Known as Darrin Smiledge before changing his name, Druce is a member of the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nation, according to published reports. He pleaded guilty in 2002 to sending a letter containing fake anthrax to a federal prosecutor in New Hampshire. He admitted sending similar letters to lawyers with Jewish-sounding surnames around the country.

Conte said Druce will be charged with murder. He was placed in isolation after the murder, Department of Correction spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said.

Druce's father, Dana Smiledge of Byfield, declined to comment when reached yesterday by The Associated Press.

Geoghan had been in protective custody since being transferred to Souza-Baranowski in April. Nantel would not confirm whether Druce was also in protective custody, but said those inmates typically only have contact with one another.

The Department of Correction has begun an internal investigation of Geoghan's murder, Nantel said.

One of two children born to a religious Boston family, Geoghan traced his desire to become a priest to the death of his father in 1940, when he was only 5, according to a 1995 evaluation. He said he experienced no abuse as a child.

Described as immature and a poor student by the rector of St. John's Seminary, where he enrolled in 1954, Geoghan was able to stay on only through the intervention of his uncle, the late Monsignor Mark Keohane.

After his ordination in 1962, Geoghan began pastoral duties at a Saugus parish, starting a 34-year career that took him to five other parishes. Along the way, he left behind him a legacy distinguished only by the trail of allegations of predatory abuse of the boys he was expected to shepherd to adulthood.

Geoghan often targeted boys from broken homes. One victim said Geoghan molested him as they drove home from getting ice cream; others said Geoghan molested them after visiting their rooms to tuck them in at bedtime.

One man said Geoghan abused him when he was 13 years old. Geoghan offered him some lemonade, then had the boy come to his room in the rectory to see his stamp collection, then fondled him.

But despite the mounting evidence of compulsive pedophilia, and periods spent at treatment centers, Geoghan was continually allowed to return to pastoral service. His last stint, after his removal from a Boston parish following allegations of abuse, saw him in charge of various youth groups.

He was eventually granted early retirement in 1996 and praised for an "effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness" by Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who ultimately resigned in December 2002 for his role in the scandal.

But with legal troubles mounting, Geoghan was defrocked in 1998, and in December 1999 he was charged with raping and molesting three boys.

Molestation scandals had hit the church in America for nearly two decades, with notorious cases involving priests and dioceses in Lafayette, La., in 1984, Fall River in 1992 and Dallas in 1993.

But in January 2002, the church's role in the handling of priests, long sealed in the courts, first came to light as Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney ordered the release of documents in Geoghan's civil cases.

"It was the first time objective evidence was produced to show that the Archdiocese of Boston, through its supervisors, allowed the abuse to continue," said Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who has represented 147 alleged victims of Geoghan.

"I think the Geoghan case helped the public, parishioners and victims understand that there was a moral responsibility within the Catholic Church," Garabedian said.
The archdiocese settled last year with 86 Geoghan victims for $10 million.

In the months that followed his trial, lawyers representing hundreds of alleged abuse victims of other priests brought new cases, forcing the church to turn over tens of thousands more documents and revealing over time the previously unknown scope of the church's cover-up in Boston and nationwide.

But Geoghan's name remained synonymous with the scandal, said Stephen Pope, chairman of the theology department at Boston College.

"He was kind of the Jack the Ripper of pedophiles, in the imagery of the public world," Pope said. "The shift was a seismic shift from trusting all priests to trusting very few."

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests