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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 of us."

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 cases.

"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 once loved."

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," MacPherson said.

"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 be sober.

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.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests