by the investigative staff of the Boston Globe
Chapter 1 | Father Geoghan | Page 3
In the summer of 1955, Geoghan failed to show up for a mandatory seminary summer camp. His superiors knew that Geoghan suffered from a "nervous condition," but they did not consider it severe enough to preclude his attendance. Besides, rules were rules. And Geoghan’s decision to skip the camp without notifying his superiors imperiled his status as a seminarian. "If I do not receive a satisfactory explanation of your absence before Sunday I shall presume you have decided to withdraw from the seminary and I shall remove your name from our list of students," Rev. Thomas J. Riley, rector of St. John’s Seminary, wrote to Geoghan at his home in the West Roxbury section of Boston in July 1955.
Geoghan didn’t respond, but his uncle, using the letterhead of St. Bartholomew’s Parish in suburban Needham, where he had been the founding pastor since 1952, went to bat for his sister’s boy. "I telephoned you at Brighton last week relative to John J. Geoghan, a seminarian who was unable to go to camp," Keohane wrote Riley. "He has been treating [sic] with a physician since he left Brighton, because of a nervous and depressed state. He had a letter written to you explaining his inability to attend camp, but the doctor advised against mailing it because of his depressed state. That is why I am writing. The doctor has the hopeful prognosis that within a few weeks he will respond to medication and rest so that he himself can write to you."
Riley’s reply two days later from the seminary camp was tart. He accepted Keohane’s explanation, but requested a doctor’s report to confirm Geoghan’s condition. "I need not remind you that the circumstances of John’s absence from the camp raise considerable doubt as to his ability to adjust to the regimen of the seminary," Riley wrote. "Nor need I remind you how necessary it is for us to deal with matters such as this on a completely objective basis, since unauthorized concessions made to one student so easily set a precedent which would lead others to seek favors. We shall do everything within reason to help John settle his problem, but I think it must be admitted as a matter of principle that John is subject to the rule of the seminary and that his case should be dealt with in the same way as that of any other student."
Keohane did not like Riley’s tone. "I resent your implication that I sought favors or preferment for John," he wrote back. He also complained that Geoghan, after three years in the seminary, "is now sick, unhappy, and appears to be wrestling with his soul."
Geoghan left the seminary for a couple of years to attend Holy Cross, the liberal-arts Jesuit college in Worcester, Massachusetts. Then, his soul-searching apparently settled, he reentered the seminary. In 1962 he took his vows and was ordained into the Catholic priesthood.
It is not clear from his troubled seminary experience whether Geoghan’s tortuous life as a seminarian was because of sexual dysfunction, depression, or immaturity. He would later tell therapists that his home was free of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. He considered himself a heterosexual who was frightened by the sexual feelings he first experienced at age eleven. When he fantasized about sex, he focused on girls. As a teenager, he dated in group settings. He considered masturbation a sin to be avoided. Despite his attraction to girls as an adolescent and young adult, Geoghan said he entered the priesthood as a virgin. "After ordination, Father Geoghan says he consciously repressed his enjoyment of the company of women for fear of conflict with his desire for celibacy," one therapist would later write. Tragically for hundreds of children and their families, Geoghan would seek the satisfaction of his sexual desires in the boys to whom he would enjoy so much unquestioned access.
Soon after he was assigned to his first parish, Blessed Sacrament in Saugus, a blue-collar community north of Boston, Geoghan later acknowledged to his psychiatrist that he grew sexually aroused in the company of boys. They would sit on his lap. He would fondle them over their clothing. There is no dispute that Geoghan abused children at Blessed Sacrament. The Archdiocese of Boston has settled claims on accusations that he did. For example, Church records note that in 1995 Geoghan admitted to molesting four boys from the same family while at Blessed Sacrament. Geoghan focused on the three older boys—ages nine, ten, and eleven—and only "on rare occasions" on the seven-year-old. He said he was "careful never to touch the one girl in the family."
"It was not the intention of these innocent youth to arouse me," Geoghan said in a critique of one of his psychiatric evaluations. "They were just happy to have a father figure with their own father being so angry and distant from them....I have deceived myself that these intimate actions were not wrong. In hindsight, I should have sought advice as to how to deal with children from dysfunctional families."
It’s not clear whether church officials knew about his earliest attacks at the time. A former priest, Anthony Benzevich, has said he saw Geoghan frequently escort young boys into his bedroom at the rectory. And Benzevich said he alerted Church higher-ups about it. But under questioning during a pretrial deposition in 2000, Benzevich—then represented by a lawyer for the Church—said his memory was foggy. He could not be certain that Geoghan brought boys into his room. He could not recall telling Church officials about it. Questioned later still by the Boston Globe, Benzevich said Geoghan liked to wrestle with young boys and dress them in priest’s attire. Benzevich repeated his sworn assertion that he did not recall notifying superiors.
If the details of Geoghan’s earliest assaults were sketchy, they acquired a sharp and stunning focus as he gained more experience as a priest and settled into rectory life. Geoghan doted on altar boys. He worked with first communicants. "We knew something wasn’t right," one church teacher said. "He just zeroed in on some kids." Geoghan paid particular attention to children from poorer families. "The children were just so affectionate, I got caught up in their acts of affection," Geoghan explained. "Children from middle-class families never acted like that toward me, so I never got so confused."