Vocal Boston critic of abuse
by clergy found dead
|AP photo of Patrick McSorley
by Patricia McDonnell.
By Brian MacQuarrie
February 24, 2004
Patrick McSorley, a victim of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan
who became one of the most visible critics of clergy sexual
abuse, was discovered dead early yesterday in a North End
apartment, his lawyer said yesterday.
Boston police would not provide details about McSorley's
death, except to say that authorities arrived at the apartment
shortly after 1 a.m. yesterday. A close friend said McSorley,
29, occasionally went to the apartment to take drugs owing
to a chronic substance-abuse problem that had plagued him
for several years.
"To think he had come this far and just to have it end
so abruptly -- it's a tragic ending," said the friend,
Alexa MacPherson, 29, also a victim of clergy sex abuse. "Many
of us try to forget the memories. His choice of action was
to drink and to use drugs to try to escape the pains that
he felt and the memories that he had."
MacPherson said she brought McSorley to many drug-rehabilitation
centers and hospitals in a long-running, unsuccessful attempt
to help him overcome his substance abuse. However, McSorley
could not shed the troubling aftereffects of Geoghan's sexual
abuse, she said.
McSorley said that Geoghan, who was killed in prison last
year, molested him when McSorley was 12 years old. The priest
had visited the family's home to offer condolences after the
suicide of McSorley's father.
"It's something that you never get over," MacPherson
said. "Once it happens to you, it's with you for the
rest of your life, and that's an unfortunate fact for all
McSorley was arrested at a Dedham motel on drug charges in
July, less than a month after he was found unconscious and
in critical condition, floating in the Neponset River in Dorchester.
McSorley later said he had not attempted to drown himself.
"I did not try to take my own life," McSorley told
reporters two weeks later. "Suicide is not the way out."
McSorley leaves a young son and had been living in Dorchester,
said his lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian.
McSorley and 85 other plaintiffs received a combined $10
million settlement from the Boston Archdiocese in 2002. McSorley
received nearly $200,000, according to a source who knew him
and was familiar with settlement details.
McSorley retained an intense interest in the issue's legal
progress, Garabedian said, and had planned to meet with the
lawyer this week to discuss the status of other clergy sex-abuse
"Patrick was interested in supporting victims of clergy
sexual abuse, and he did not want this matter to be swept
under the rug," Garabedian said. "Patrick was a
strong voice, an emotional voice, and a heroic voice."
McSorley became a vocal and angry critic of the archdiocese's
handling of the settlement negotiations. He attended the deposition
of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned as Boston archbishop
in 2002, and often appeared at news conferences about the
explosive clergy-abuse scandal.
McSorley directed some of his harshest criticism at the archdiocese's
past practices of transferring abusive priests among its parishes,
instead of removing them from positions in which they could
interact with children. At one of Law's depositions, he refused
to shake the cardinal's hand.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network
of those Abused by Priests, was choked with emotion yesterday
when he spoke about McSorley's effect on the effort to expose
clergy abuse and negotiate a settlement with the Archdiocese
of Boston. "By his example, he gave so many others the
courage to come forward and to persevere over such a draining
but ultimately successful legal struggle," Clohessy said.
Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley offered condolences to McSorley's
family. "The tragic death of Patrick McSorley saddens
everyone," O'Malley said in a statement. "I offer
my prayers for the repose of Patrick's soul."
The archdiocese also announced that its Office of Pastoral
Support and Outreach will be available to assist abuse victims
and family members distressed by the news of McSorley's death.
At the time of the settlement, McSorley said: "The money
is not going to change my life. My heart is always going to
be broken because of this. I mean, these are people my family
But the settlement probably accelerated McSorley's tragic
spiral, MacPherson said. "No matter how much money you
get, it doesn't take away the pain," said MacPherson,
who lives in Dorchester. "The money seems to have been
a weapon. . . . It definitely gave him the means to buy drugs."
MacPherson said she would refuse to drive McSorley to the
North End apartment or pick him up there unless he promised
to head directly to a hospital or treatment facility. Garabedian
said the apartment belongs to a friend of McSorley's.
McSorley, who was unemployed, had been abusing heroin, the
painkiller fentanyl, alcohol, and marijuana, "pretty
much anything he could to escape the pain and the memories,"
"I spent a lot of last summer and fall trying to help
him get into a drug-rehabilitation program. He definitely
was in need of some serious help," MacPherson said. "There
were days when we would spend 10, 12, 14 hours at . . . hospitals,
trying to get him in. He wanted their help so badly, and we
basically got turned away because he had no health insurance."
MacPherson said she did not know what had become of McSorley's
settlement money. "He was in drug withdrawal all the
time," she recalled. "He would sit there and cry
that he wanted the help and wanted to do it, and to be the
father that his son needed."
Finally, MacPherson said, McSorley was admitted to a treatment
center in Brookline.
John Harris, a co-leader of the Norwood chapter of the Survivors
Network, said he saw McSorley on the Orange Line in 2002 and
tried to persuade him to attend meetings of the network's
support group. Although McSorley thanked him for the information,
Harris said, he appeared "very troubled." McSorley
was "looking down, had poor eye contact, and was talking
about his family and what he wanted to do for them."
MacPherson said that she last spoke with McSorley around
Christmas and that he seemed in good spirits. "He seemed
to be doing pretty well," she said, and he appeared to
However, recent developments concerning clergy sexual abuse
might have been triggered renewed anxiety in McSorley, said
Phil Saviano, who founded the New England chapter of the Survivors
Network. News reports about abuse cases in the Springfield
Diocese and a forthcoming national report on clergy sexual
abuse is bringing attention to the issue once again.
"It's quite possible that Patrick was feeling particularly
distressed this past week," Saviano said.
McSorley's death does not erase his legacy, abuse victims
and their advocates said.
"Patrick was certainly courageous in his willingness
to go on the record very publicly to tell what it was like
to be abused, as it turns out, by one of the most notorious
molesters in the priesthood," Saviano said. "For
any young male victim, that takes a lot of courage, and Patrick
McSorley was able to do it day after day after day."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.