News From


Geoghan is killed in prison

Pedophile priest dies after being attacked

Richard Nangle and Kathleen A. Shaw
August 24, 2003

Defrocked pedophile priest John J. Geoghan, whose case helped set the stage for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law of the Boston archdiocese, died yesterday shortly after reportedly being attacked in the state prison here.

Joseph L. Druce, 37, who was serving a life sentence at the Souza-Baranowski prison, was charged with murder in connection with the former priest's death, according to District Attorney John J. Conte.

Mr. Geoghan died at UMass Memorial - HealthAlliance Leominster Campus after being strangled at the prison shortly before noon, Mr. Conte said, adding that he will seek a murder indictment.

Mr. Geoghan had been in protective custody as a precautionary measure, but still had some contact with other inmates, said Kelly Nantel, Department of Correction spokeswoman.

More than 130 people in civil suits have claimed Mr. Geoghan sexually abused them as children while a priest. Mr. Geoghan was serving a 9- to 10-year sentence on a 2002 conviction for indecent assault and battery on a 10-year-old boy.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, offered prayers for Mr. Geoghan's family.

"Upon hearing the news of the tragic death of John Geoghan, the Archdiocese of Boston offers prayer for the repose of John's soul, and extends its prayers in consolation to his beloved sister, Kathy, at this time of personal loss," he said.

Worcester lawyer Anthony Salerno said news of Mr. Geoghan's death was of particular concern to him. He represents the Rev. Robert E. Kelley of Worcester, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to two rape charges. Rev. Kelley, who already served 6½ years in prison on a previous rape conviction, faces sentencing in October.

Mr. Salerno said convicted priests do not belong in the general prison population.

"The public in general doesn't care what happens to somebody when they go to prison," said Mr. Salerno, a former state trooper. "There's a prevailing attitude that they get what they deserve. But that just flies in the face of the rights that everybody should enjoy."

"The current prison population is really almost gang-controlled. It's pretty obvious when you go in on visits and walk around," Mr. Salerno said. "Sex offenders are really at the bottom of the system, and I think because of that there is clearly a disregard for them, not only by the other inmates, but I think that kind of permeates or rubs off on the staff, whether it's intentional or not."

Mr. Druce, a convicted murderer and member of the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nation, pleaded guilty last August in federal court to sending a threatening letter from prison, laced with fake anthrax and decorated with swastikas, to a federal prosecutor in New Hampshire, according to The Boston Globe.

Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso, who represents some Geoghan victims, said, "I think most of the victims would rather that he be alive and take his punishment. I think they're going to have mixed feelings. He was supposed to go through two more trials."

The Geoghan case was fueled by revelations last year that the Boston Archdiocese had repeatedly reassigned him to new parishes. A judge's order opening archdiocesan files to the public and showing a pattern of reassignment of accused priests ignited a nationwide sexual abuse scandal that reverberated all over the world.

Bishops last year toughened their policy against sex abuse as more than 325 priests nationwide resigned or were dismissed.

Last September, the archdiocese reached a $10 million settlement with 86 Geoghan victims after pulling out of an earlier $30 million settlement.

Phil Saviano, New England leader of the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, said the Geoghan case was the impetus for his decision to start the local chapter.

"The Geoghan victims looked so anxious and really shell-shocked in their first TV interviews," he said. "I was stunned by the news today because it's getting harder and harder to predict where this is all going. I would be very surprised if there are any survivors who feel good about this situation. I don't think any would say that a violent death such as what he experienced today was what he deserved."

Mr. Saviano received about $12,000 from the Worcester diocese several years ago to settle a suit filed against the Rev. David A. Holley, who allegedly molested Mr. Saviano while he was assigned to St. Denis parish in East Douglas. Rev. Holley later moved to New Mexico, where he was arrested and convicted of abusing children there. He is serving a prison sentence in that state.

Mr. Saviano said Rev. Holley wrote to him a few years ago and said he had been beaten up twice in prison.

"I mentioned that to a couple of my friends and they expressed some satisfaction, but I didn't feel that way at all," Mr. Saviano said. "I always felt he was a sick puppy with emotional problems, and that he had no ability to control himself. He needed to be off the streets. But a prison sentence shouldn't be a death sentence."

Mary T. Jean, leader of the Worcester Voice, a group that advocates for clergy abuse victims in Central Massachusetts, said Mr. Geoghan's death brings closure to no one.

"Prisons are dangerous places and the state of Massachusetts bears complete responsibility for this murder," she said.

Paul Baier of Survivors First, a victim advocacy group based in the Boston area, said he wasn't sure what to say when a "convicted pedophile is murdered."

"His sentence was not to die, so this is unfortunate. The good news is that Geoghan will never rape a child again," he said.

Daniel J. Shea, a Houston lawyer who formerly represented Garry Garland of Boston, said he warned the Boston archdiocese shortly after Rev. Geoghan was sentenced that accused priests could be in danger and should be afforded some protection.

"They wouldn't listen to me," Mr. Shea said. "I had to turn in my own client to police because he went after Monsignor Fred Ryan."

Mr. Garland switched lawyers after an incident where he was wrestled to the ground as he approached Monsignor Ryan's house. Police later found a cleaver in Mr. Garland's car.

Mr. Shea said he regretted Mr. Geoghan's death. He said the former priest was a product of a clerical culture emanating from Rome which "gave the green light for them to do these things because they were told in so many words they could get away with it," he said. "So many people have been hurt because of the church's refusal to deal with a serious problem. I feel for the victims and I feel for the Geoghan family," he said.

Mr. Shea has been in the news recently for uncovering a 1962 Vatican document, "Crimen Sollicitationis," which called for secrecy in handling sexual abuse cases involving priests and the sacrament of confession. He and Mr. Durso have presented the document, which was approved by Pope John XXIII, to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan. The two believe it proves a worldwide conspiracy by the Catholic church to cover up sexual abuse crimes by priests.

"People like Geoghan need help, and yet the Church repeatedly turns its head away from the victims of clergy abuse as well as the perpetrators using instructions like "Crimen Sollicitationis" to allow these sicknesses to go untreated," said Timothy Staney of Worcester, who has sued the Rev. Jean-Paul Gagnon and a religious education teacher, Raymond Tremblay, alleging sexual abuse. Mr. Staney alleges that sexual abuse by Rev. Gagnon involved the sacrament of confession.

MCI Shirley has been the site of some recent controversy. The Middlesex District Attorney's office in 2001 determined that guards and officials involved in an October 2000 prison shakedown broke no criminal laws and will not face prosecution.

Some state lawmakers who urged an investigation into the shakedown said prosecutors did not dig deep enough to find out what happened at the prison.

The review stemmed from an incident at MCI Shirley during which inmates said they were kicked and beaten by members of a Department of Correction tactical team.

"It's been quite a saga and it's become nearly impossible to predict the twists and turns in this story," Mr. Saviano said. "The only thing we can be sure of is from this point on, Father Geoghan will no longer be part of it."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Richard Nangle can be reached by e-mail at Kathleen A. Shaw can be reached by e-mail at

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests