by the investigative staff of the Boston Globe
Chapter 1 | Father Geoghan | Page 6
Asked once why he had not acted more decisively after a parishioner accused Geoghan of assaulting her sons and nephews, Bishop Thomas V. Daily answered: "I am not a policeman. I am a shepherd."
In this ecclesiastical climate of dodged facts and phantom rules, Geoghan endured with the help of friendly physicians on whose medical blessings his superiors relied for evidence that he had exorcised the sexual demons that drove him toward his predatory practices. "I feel like a newly ordained priest!" Geoghan exulted in February 1981, after the doctors cleared him for return to his priestly duties. "Thank God for modern medicine and good doctors."
Oddly, in the summer of 1982, with suspicions again swirling around Geoghan, with his victims’ relatives demanding his removal, the Church decided to give Geoghan a sought-after perk. They shipped him to a scholarly renewal program in Rome. And his brethren helped picked up the tab.
"I am happy to inform you that you will receive a grant of $2,000 to help you with your expenses," Cardinal Humberto Medeiros told Geoghan that August. "These funds will be sent to you when they become available as a result of the generosity of your fellow priests. It is my hope that the three months will provide the opportunity for the kind of renewal of mind, body and spirit that will enable you to return to parish work refreshed and strengthened in the Lord."
But it didn’t work. When he returned from Rome, Geoghan’s attacks continued, even as he assured a church bishop that his sexual attraction to children had withered and that he had been chaste for five years.
Increasingly, Geoghan grew defensive and dismissive—annoyed, really—at any suggestion that he needed outside help. His sister, Catherine, just seventeen months his senior, offered a window into his increasingly circumscribed world. No one had ever been closer to John Geoghan than Catherine, a kindergarten teacher, who watched him grow from a little boy into a priest and would stand by him later as prosecutors closed in and handcuffs tightened around his wrists. Asked once whether her brother was upset about the molestation charges against him, she replied, "Of course he’s upset, because they’re all false charges." Her brother told her he had been unfairly targeted by "dysfunctional" families. And she believed him. After all, she said, she had seen them for herself. In the summer of 1998, after Geoghan’s abuse had become headline news across the region, some of his victims showed up at the family’s summer home in Scituate. "They came and sat on my patio and sat and waited," Catherine Geoghan said. "I had to call the police and have them leave. They just came and sat.... They told the police they weren’t sitting there, they were just waiting for Father Geoghan. They moved onto the seawall. They put down their chairs, their water bottles, their drinks, their binoculars, their cameras. That’s the kind of people you’re dealing with."
In the decade between 1980 and 1990, Geoghan had received several clean bills of health that the Archdiocese of Boston used to justify assigning him to two parishes despite his extensive record of abuse. By the mid-1990s, however, as police and prosecutors began to circle, top diocesan officials had finally conceded that Geoghan was an incurable child molester—a thrice-diagnosed pedophile. "A pedophile, a liar, and a manipulator," Rev. Brian M. Flatley, a Boston archdiocese official, pronounced him.
Through it all, Geoghan, now an embarrassment the Church desperately sought to conceal, tried to work the priestly network he had assembled and relied on for more than thirty years. When his pastor in Weston announced plans to retire in the early summer of 1990, he immediately wrote the cardinal at the chancery, raising his hand for the job. His qualifications? "I have been six years in Weston. I know the people, the parish, and its problems. I am confident that I can build a vibrant Faith Community." He did not mention that by then he had been removed three times from parishes for molesting children.
The archdiocese turned him down. And when Geoghan sought the same promotion two years later, the posting went instead to a former Holy Cross and seminary classmate. The Church tried to let Geoghan down easy. "It is important that you not interpret this appointment by the cardinal in any negative way with reference to yourself," an aide to the Cardinal wrote Geoghan.
By early 1993, the Church had shunted Geoghan into a job as associate director of the Office for Senior Priests at a clergy retirement home in downtown Boston, while it fretted about his unsupervised access to children. Superiors were not pleased with his performance there. They considered his work habits lax, his judgment poor, and his manner "boyish."
Sure enough, alarm bells sounded on December 30, 1994. Geoghan had been accused of molesting boys in nearby Waltham. "There is a crisis," Flatley told Edward Messner, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Messner’s notes from that day convey the situation’s gravity. "A priest had admitted abusing minors in the past and had been acting out again recently....Police and the district attorney are involved....The allegations mirror what has come up before." Six hours laters, Geoghan was sitting in therapy with Messner, beginning regular sessions in which Geoghan admitted to being "drawn by affection and intimacy with boys" and "pointed out that his misconduct occurred during a time of sexual exploration in this country."
Remarkably, Church officials’ patience had yet to be exhausted. Cardinal Law wrote that he was sorry to learn of the new allegations against Geoghan, placing him on administrative leave and confining his pastoral duties to the celebration of Mass in private. He was quietly shipped off again for inpatient psychiatric evaluation.