THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church
For the investigative staff of the Boston Globe, that document was a turning point: a story about a priest who was accused of molesting children was now a story about a bishop who protected that priest. The document, and a defense offered in late July by the cardinal’s lawyer asserting that physicians had cleared Geoghan for ministry, set off a lengthy investigation by the Globe’s Spotlight Team, which set out to determine whether the Geoghan case was an anomaly or part of a pattern.
The troubling answer to that question—dozens of Boston-area priests had molested minors, and in too many cases bishops had known about the abuse but failed to remove the priests from their jobs—was revealed in a series of stories published in early 2002 that has triggered the most serious crisis to confront the Catholic Church in years.
The Globe’s reporting, and the events it set off, led to the writing of Betrayal, which is the story of priests who abused the children in their care, victims whose lives were shattered at the hands of those priests, bishops who failed to prevent the abuse, and laypeople who rose up in anger.
"Since the mid-1990s, more than 130 people have come forward with horrific childhood tales about how former priest John J. Geoghan allegedly fondled or raped them during a three-decade spree through a half-dozen Greater Boston parishes," began the Spotlight Team’s first article on the subject, published in January 2002. "Almost always, his victims were grammar school boys. One was just 4 years old."
Over the next four months, the Globe ran nearly 300 stories about clergy sexual abuse. Though the problem had been widely known nationally and sporadically written about since the mid-1980s, the Globe’s reporting used the Church’s own documents to demonstrate that high-ranking officials had repeatedly put the welfare of their priests ahead of that of the children in their care.
In the Geoghan case a succession of three cardinals and many bishops over thirty-four years had failed to place children out of Geoghan’s reach, sending the priest compassionate letters even as they moved him from parish to parish, leaving a trail of victims in his wake.
The first Globe stories struck a nerve. Catholics were furious and felt betrayed. Cardinal Law apologized, and in the ensuing days and weeks, he agreed to turn over the names of all priests, past and present, accused of sexually abusing minors, even though such reporting was not then required under Massachusetts law. He announced a zero-tolerance policy, vowing to oust any priest against whom a credible allegation was lodged, and promised new efforts to reach out to victims.
But the dam had burst. Many Catholics called for Law’s resignation and began withholding contributions to the Church. State legislators passed a bill requiring clergy to report allegations of sexual abuse to secular authorities. Prosecutors began issuing arrest warrants for priests.
This story began, as all stories do, with a group of reporters trying to answer a set of questions. The Globe’s Spotlight Team—editor Walter V. Robinson and reporters Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Michael Rezendes—set out to discover how many priests in Boston had molested children, and how much the Church had known about the abuse.
Within a few days, the reporters discovered that Geoghan was merely the most well known example of a much deeper problem. The Archdiocese of Boston had quietly settled claims of abuse against multiple priests in recent years. Most of the claims had been settled in private, with no public record. It was an agreeable arrangement: the Church got to keep the ugly truth under wraps; shame-filled victims, having no clue that there were so many others, were able to protect their privacy. Victims’ lawyers received a third or more of the financial settlements without ever having to test their cases in court.
Even in the infrequent instances when lawsuits were filed, the reporters found that official records often had vanished. That was because judges agreed to impound the cases once they were settled, shielding from the public not only the outcomes but any traces that the suits had even been filed.
Reporters met another roadblock. In the scores of civil lawsuits pending against Geoghan, a judge had placed a confidentiality seal on all the documents produced in the case, including depositions and Geoghan’s personnel records.
Martin Baron, who had just become editor of the Globe, decided that the newspaper should challenge the judge’s confidentiality order on the grounds that the public interest in unsealing the documents outweighed the privacy concerns of the litigants. In August 2001 the newspaper’s lawyers filed a motion seeking to unseal the Geoghan papers.
Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney ruled in the Globe’s favor in November. The Church appealed the decision, but in December a state appeals court judge upheld Sweeney’s ruling. The documents would be released sometime in January 2002.
On December 17, 2001, Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the cardinal’s lawyer, sent the Globe a letter threatening to seek legal sanctions against the newspaper and its law firm if the Globe published anything gleaned from confidential records in the suits. He warned that he would seek court-imposed sanctions if reporters even asked questions of clergy involved in the case.
But by this time, the Spotlight Team had determined through numerous interviews that many priests in the Boston archdiocese had faced sexual abuse allegations in the last decade that were credible enough that the archdiocese had paid settlements to the victims—and had done so secretly. The team used the Church’s annual directories, which list where priests are assigned, as its compass. The reporters developed a database showing that scores of active priests had inexplicably been removed from parish assignments around the time the victims were receiving secret settlements. The scope of the abuse was far greater than previously known.
With Geoghan due to face his first criminal trial on a variety of sex abuse charges in January, the Spotlight Team put aside the secret-settlements story in mid-December and began work on what was initially conceived as a three-thousand-word article that would set the stage for the first Geoghan trial. This was not to be a full-blown investigation but a three-week, in-depth look at the wrecked lives Geoghan had left in his wake during the course of a thirty-four-year rampage.
But after just a week of combing through court files, the Globe found never-publicized documents that were extremely damaging to the archdiocese. The documents included a 1984 warning to Law from one of his bishops that Geoghan remained a danger; a 1982 letter from a parishioner to Law’s predecessor, Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, laying out Geoghan’s abuses and demanding to know why he was still allowed to serve in a parish with children; and some of Geoghan’s psychiatric records. The documents proved that the archdiocese had known of Geoghan’s abuse of children for decades.
The Globe published its first Spotlight series on the Geoghan case on January 6 and 7. Law declined to be interviewed for the articles. Then, in anticipation of the public release of about ten thousand more pages of Geoghan court documents on January 25, the Globe obtained the documents early and published excerpts and stories about them on January 24, adding rich detail and context to the initial series.
On January 31, the newspaper ran the piece it had first undertaken the previous summer, revealing that over the past decade the Archdiocese of Boston had secretly settled cases in which at least seventy priests had been accused of sexual abuse. The story—based on court documents and records, a database, and interviews with attorneys and other sources involved in the cases—was a watershed, establishing that the Geoghan case was not an aberration.
Within weeks, and under pressure from prosecutors, the archdiocese dug into its files and turned over to local district attorneys the names of more than ninety priests about whom it had received credible sexual abuse complaints over the previous forty years. Soon, prodded by their local media, other dioceses around the country were also combing their files for past complaints and jousting with authorities about what to do with their accused priests. Many of the dioceses began to formulate new policies on how to deal with sexual abuse complaints, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops prepared to adopt a national policy for the first time.
As the crisis in the Church grew, the Globe doubled to eight the number of staffers assigned to the story full-time, adding projects reporters Stephen Kurkjian, Thomas Farragher, and Kevin Cullen, and religion reporter Michael Paulson. Over time, other reporters contributed on an ad hoc basis.
This book builds on the extensive reporting the Globe has done on the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Some of the interviews and facts have previously been reported in the newspaper, but no articles were reproduced wholesale; much of the reporting is new, and the book was written from scratch. Reporting for the book, from which any profits will go to charity, also produced stories for the paper. Those articles included previously undisclosed instances of sexual abuse, the interplay between local prosecutors and the Boston archdiocese, and the expanding effort by Catholic laity to challenge the Church’s hierarchy.
The clergy sexual abuse story is still unfolding, and it will likely take years before all the facts are known and all the changes it sets off are in place. This book, written from the epicenter of the scandal in Boston, examines the scandal’s origins and causes, the behavior of abusive priests and their impact on victims, the role of key figures including Geoghan and Law, and the decline of deference among the faithful and how the Catholic Church might change as a result.
Ben Bradlee Jr.
Betrayal is the story of a large number of Catholic priests who abused the trust given them and the children in their care. It is the story of the bishops and the cardinals who hired, promoted, protected, and thanked those priests, despite overwhelming evidence of their abusive behavior. It is the story of a powerful, proud Church thrown into crisis by the misdeeds, mistakes, and misjudgments of its own clergy. It is the story of victims who suffered in silence for years before finding the voice to publicly challenge their Church. And it is the story of the desire of that Church’s many faithful members to learn from the crisis and bring about change.
In the winter of 2002, when the initial reports about how the Catholic Church had handled priests who sexually abused children surfaced in the Boston Globe, the stories seemed almost too horrible to be true. The reports showed that members of the Church hierarchy—including Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston, the most influential American Catholic prelate in the Vatican—were not only aware of the abuse but had gone to enormous lengths to hide the scandal from public view.
The extent of betrayal—of children’s innocence, of parents’ trust, of priestly vows, of bishops’ responsibilities, of the Church’s basic tenets—was unnerving. Most shocking to everyday Catholics, and most damaging to the Church, was the incontrovertible evidence that Cardinal Law and other leaders of his archdiocese had engaged in such a massive cover-up. Rather than protect its most vulnerable members, the Church had been putting them in harm’s way.
Soon newspapers all over the United States and overseas began demanding answers from their local dioceses. Empowered victims stepped forward. Lawyers who once played by the Church’s rules in secretly settling cases did a public about-face, declaring that those agreements were no longer in their clients’ or the public’s interest.
Next, law enforcement officials, who along with their predecessors were wary of going after the Church that many of them belonged to, demanded records so they could decide whether to prosecute priests whose only previous sanctions were transfers to new parishes, being stashed away in hospital chaplaincies, or, for the worst offenders, being placed on a bureaucratic shelf. Chastened Church leaders were confronted with overwhelming evidence that the Archdiocese of Boston placed a premium on protecting the Church’s reputation at the expense of its victims.
Across the country, and across the Catholic world, priests implicated in abuse were pulled from assignments—176 in the United States alone in the first four months of 2002. Bishops resigned in the United States, Poland, and Ireland. Even in Rome, where Vatican leaders had studiously avoided previous outbreaks of scandal, the Pope used his annual Holy Thursday letter to priests to weigh in on the subject, although only to comfort good priests rather than the victims of bad ones.
To the victims of abusive priests, the Pope’s fleeting reference to the scandal—using a vague Latin phrase, "mysterium iniquitatis," to describe a crime he called a sin—failed to mention the victims at all, and thus offered little comfort. To many, the Pope’s statement seemed to be more evidence of an aloof, arrogant, out-of-touch hierarchy whose inability to see beyond its own needs had the effect of rubbing salt into raw, open wounds.
The following day, in his Good Friday letter, Cardinal Law also touched on the theme of betrayal, but more explicitly. "Betrayal hangs like a heavy cloud over the Church today," he wrote. "While we do not presume to judge anyone’s relationship with God, there is no doubt that a betrayal of trust is at the heart of the evil in the sexual abuse of children by clergy. Priests should be trustworthy beyond any shadow of a doubt. When some have broken that trust, all of us suffer the consequences."
* * *
Public opinion polls found a deepening sense of disillusionment among parishioners with Law’s handling of the problem. By mid-April a Globe–WBZ-TV poll found that 65 percent of the Catholics in the archdiocese believed the cardinal needed to resign.
Some Catholics began withholding money from the archdiocese. Churchgoers turned their backs on the cardinal’s Annual Appeal, which funds many Church programs. And an ambitious $350 million capital fundraising campaign virtually ground to a halt. There was renewed discussion about the wisdom of a priesthood restricted to celibate men, and some wondered whether there is a link between the high incidence of sexual abuse of teenage boys and the high percentage of gay men in the priesthood.
After three months of mounting scandal, the Vatican seemed to awaken: the Pope summoned all the American cardinals to an extraordinary emergency meeting in April 2002. At that meeting, the Pope changed his tune, and his tone. He said the sexual abuse of minors by priests was not only an "appalling sin" but a crime. The Pope also responded to complaints that the Holy See appeared indifferent to the suffering of victims. "To the victims and their families, wherever they may be, I express my profound sense of solidarity and concern," the frail, eighty-one-year-old pontiff said.
While the meeting was remarkable, and unprecedented, it remained unclear how tangible and far-reaching the reforms promised by the Vatican would become. There are still many within the Vatican who view sexual abuse by clergy as a peculiarly American phenomenon.
The issue of the Church failing to take seriously the sexual abuse of children by its clergy had surfaced now and then since 1985, when the first big case exploded in Louisiana. But the Church had engaged in largely successful damage control, taking advantage of the widespread deference toward it to dismiss the scandals as anomalies being blown out of proportion by anti-Catholic elements in the news media, in collaboration with Catholic dissidents who wanted to discredit the hierarchy.
But the Church’s ability to deflect the issue began to crumble in the face of documents in the Boston cases that showed Cardinal Law and his top aides were repeatedly warned about dangerous priests, but continued to put these sexual abusers in a position to attack children.
The Geoghan case became a potent symbol of the compassion and gentle treatment the Church afforded its own rogue priests at the expense of the victims. Geoghan was an incorrigible pedophile. Nearly two hundred people who claim they were raped and fondled by Geoghan have filed claims in the last several years. Experts believe he probably molested three to four times as many people as have come -forward. Geoghan calmly explained to therapists how he would single out his prey, the needy children of poor, single mothers—struggling women who were thrilled to have a man in their sons’ lives, especially a priest. Occasionally complaints would arise, but Geoghan’s superiors would simply move him to another parish and a fresh set of victims.
And it was not just Geoghan. Law, his bishops, and their predecessors had moved abusive priests around like pawns on a chessboard. Some were allowed to relocate out of state, foisted on other dioceses. If parishioners were in the dark about the predators cast into their midst, so too were some of the abusers’ new pastors. In one case, in the process of arranging for an alleged child rapist named Rev. Paul Shanley to be transferred to a new parish in California, Cardinal Law’s top deputy wrote a letter of assurance to Church officials in San Bernardino, vouching for the integrity of someone the Boston archdiocese knew had been accused of engaging in sexual abuse. Even after the archdiocese had paid off some of Shanley’s victims on the condition that they keep quiet, Cardinal Law wrote Shanley a glowing retirement letter and said he would not object to his appointment to head a Church-run guest home in New York whose clientele included young people.
The problem in the Archdiocese of Boston was a microcosm of a festering sore in the body of the entire Church. If to some defenders it seemed like merely a brushfire, it was to others the greatest conflagration to face the Church in generations. It stretched across the North American continent, back across to Europe, scandalizing Australia, and stretching to the very tip of the earth, to Tierra del Fuego, a remote archipelago in Chile.
Since the Louisiana case, most of those implicated were ordinary priests. But now the scandal has broadened, ensnaring not only the priests who abused children but the bishops and cardinals who protected those priests. In 2001 a bishop in France was prosecuted criminally for failing to report pedophile priests to police, and in Wales, a bishop was forced to resign because he protected abusive priests. In the spring of 2002, a Polish archbishop close to the Pope was forced to resign after being accused of sexually harassing seminarians. Three days later, Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ireland resigned after admitting he had not done enough to control a priest whose rampant sexual abuse of minors led to the suicide of several victims and, ultimately, of the abusive priest himself.
But it was Boston that became the epicenter of the scandal, because the story broke there, because of the sheer number of priests implicated there, and because of the Catholic character of the city. More than 2 million of the 3.8 million people who live in the metropolitan Boston area are Catholic. It is the only major archdiocese in the United States where Catholics account for more than half the population. In no other major American city are Catholics more represented in police precincts, in courtrooms, in boardrooms. Nowhere else has the impact of the scandal been more deeply felt. And nowhere else has the erosion of deference traditionally shown the Church been more dramatic.
In 1992, when a scandal erupted over James R. Porter—a pedophile priest who attacked more than one hundred children in southeastern Massachusetts, outside the Boston archdiocese—most Catholics accepted Law’s assurance that Porter’s transgressions were not the fault of a caring Church but "an aberrant act" of one depraved man. He also said the Porter affair had been deliberately overblown because of anti-Catholic bias in the secular media. "By all means," the cardinal said at the time, "we call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe."
The newspaper, founded by members of the Protestant Brahmin ascendancy that once ran Boston, had been accused of anti-Catholic bias before. But the documents about Geoghan unsealed by Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney—showing the level to which the cardinal and his bishops went to conceal the pattern of abuse from the public eye—produced a sea change in attitudes among most Catholics. Rather than blame the messenger, most Catholics focused their anger on Church leaders. They wanted answers from their cardinal. And by the time he departed for the April 2002 meeting with the Pope and the other American cardinals, even Law wasn’t blaming the media anymore. "The crisis of clergy sexual abuse of minors is not just a media-driven or public-perception concern in the United States, but a very serious issue undermining the mission of the Catholic Church," he said.
In the past some politicians, police, prosecutors, and judges had enabled the cover-up of priestly misconduct, both great and small. But the scope of the archdiocese’s actions on behalf of abusive priests emboldened those in law enforcement and politics to push aside a culture of deference that was more than a century in the making. The Massachusetts attorney general and five of the state’s top prosecutors, all Catholic, demanded and eventually obtained Church records showing that more than ninety priests in the archdiocese had been accused of sexual abuse by hundreds of victims over the previous forty years. That figure didn’t include priests who had died. Almost all the cases were beyond the statute of limitations, meaning most could not be prosecuted. But whatever the archdiocese was able to dodge in a court of law bedeviled it in the court of public opinion.
Boston may be the quintessential American Catholic city, yet the scandal soon proved to be far more than a local story. It became an international story about how the rights of powerless individuals are pushed aside in the interests of a powerful institution, about how mortals can damage an immortal faith. By most accounts at least 1,500 priests have faced public accusations of sexual misconduct with minors since the mid-1980s.
The costs so far have been high. Donations to the Church have fallen. Few people have sworn off their faith, but many have sworn off the hierarchy. Harder to measure are the human costs to the victims. There was the eleven-year-old who, during confession, was asked by a priest whether he masturbated, then was asked for a demonstration; the thirteen-year-old who was seduced by his priest and, in an era of far less tolerance toward homosexuality, was left to wonder whether he was gay; and the boy who was handed train fare by a priest who had just anally raped him and left him bleeding.
If there are any heroes in this squalid tale, they are the victims, who found their voice, who found the courage, after years of suffering in silence and isolation, to step into the light and say, as one did, "This happened to me, and this is wrong."
Fourteen years ago, Peter Pollard wrote Cardinal Law a letter telling him that he had been sexually abused by a priest when he was in his teens. He asked Law to get the priest into treatment, to make sure that he was never alone with a child again, and to begin an outreach program for other victims. But Pollard said one of Law’s deputies—who is now a bishop—told him that after a five-day evaluation, the Church had concluded the priest was not a danger to children. He suggested the sexual activity was a mere display of affection. Now a father of one and a social worker who works with neglected and abused children, Pollard is encouraged by the recent empowerment of other victims, whom he calls survivors. While he endorses the Christian concept of bearing witness, he is less enamored with another principle in Church teaching.
"To those who ask that we forgive and forget, please understand," Pollard wrote in an opinion piece for the Globe. "The survivors, each of us in his own way, have spent our lives trying to move on, always weighing those two options. For some of us, suicide, substance abuse, or violence ended the struggle early.
"To varying degrees, those of us who have survived have begun to heal. We reclaimed dreams, earned degrees, formed families, went to work, even sought solace in spiritual practice. But we cannot escape the effects of the betrayals that were committed against us in God’s name. They are inexorably woven into the texture of who we have become.
"That betrayal may not be a chargeable offense in a court of law. But there is no statute of limitation on its impact. And there should be no forgetting."
Chapter 1 | Father Geoghan
He was a small, wiry man with a disarming smile that, from a distance, gave him the gentle bearing of a kindly uncle or a friendly neighborhood shopkeeper. It was hard to detect the darkness behind John Geoghan’s bright eyes. At first glance, almost no one did.
Frank Leary certainly didn’t see it. The fifth of six children being raised by a single mother on welfare, Leary was thirteen years old and had yet to learn his older brothers’ tricks for ditching Mass on Sunday mornings when he first encountered Geoghan in the late spring of 1974. The priest’s smiling face was already a fixture at the back of St. Andrew’s Church in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. After Mass, the parish priest would hug the mothers, shake hands with the fathers, and deliver soft pats to the backs of the children.
"He always had a big grin—it was as wide as his face," Leary recalled. "My mother liked him. He was very popular. He was like a little imp." Leary said hello to the priest, received his friendly tap across the shoulder blades, and didn’t focus on Geoghan again until the summer.
The rectory groundskeeper was Leary’s friend , and Leary helped out a couple times a week, raking freshly mowed grass or gathering hedge clippings in a wheelbarrow. It was taxing work under an August sun, and one afternoon Geoghan bounded down the short steps of the rectory, offering a tall, cool glass of lemonade. Leary thanked the priest but demurred. He didn’t like lemonade. But the priest insisted, and sweetened the offer. He had a wonderful stamp collection that the boy might enjoy. Soon the priest and the boy were upstairs in Geoghan’s room at the rectory.
Leary sat in a large leather chair in the middle of the room, and the priest handed him an oversize book that contained the stamp collection. The priest went to the back of the room, keeping up a constant, reassuring patter. The collection did not hold the boy’s interest, but Geoghan pressed the matter. "He said, ‘Here, I’ll show you a few things.’ And he had me get up and he sat down and I sat on his lap," said Leary. The priest placed his hand on Leary’s knee and started turning pages that were a blur to the boy. Geoghan told him that his mother had suggested the visit. But still, Geoghan said, they should keep it a secret. All the while the priest’s hand climbed farther up Leary’s leg, until it reached under his cotton shorts and beneath his underwear.
"He was touching me, fondling me. I’m frozen. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. He was talking constantly. He said, ‘Shut the book. Close your eyes. We’ll say the Hail Mary.’ And that’s what I did." But before the prayer was finished, the boy darted from the room, hurried down the stairs, and found himself shaking behind the church.
Within a week or so, it happened again. Leary was sweeping concrete next to the church when Geoghan walked up, put his arm around the thirteen-year-old, and told him how special he was. The priest then ushered Leary back into the rectory, where Leary remembered seeing a scowling nun standing at the foot of the stairs.
Geoghan swept past the nun and directed Leary to the same chair in which the first attack had occurred. The shades were drawn against the summertime brightness. At first, the priest stood behind him, placing his hands on Leary’s shoulders. He asked the boy to begin reciting the most familiar prayers of the Catholic faith: the Our Father and the Hail Mary. "I’m praying and I’ve got my eyes closed. And he moves over to the chair and pulls my pants down one leg. And I couldn’t move. I was frozen. He had his shoulder on my chest at this point. He was praying too. And I was saying prayers, following him. I’m shaking. I felt very, very strange. I couldn’t do anything."
Geoghan moved down the young boy’s body and began to perform oral sex on him. "I was trying to hold back the tears and keep saying my prayers and keep my eyes closed. I didn’t see him do that. I remember being pushed back in my chair."
The assault did not last long. Perhaps only a minute, Leary estimated, before it was interrupted by a sudden commotion. "Geoghan stood straight up. The door flew open. And a priest with longish white hair started yelling at him. ‘Jack, we told you not to do this up here! What the hell are you doing! Are you nuts?’ He was yelling and screaming, and I just remember floating out of that chair."
Leary fled to a tree-shaded spot behind the school and tried to regain his composure. He sat for a while in a local cemetery, and when he finally went home, he went directly to his room. He didn’t tell anyone about the assault for many years.
Geoghan had been a Catholic priest for a dozen years when Leary says Geoghan sexually assaulted him. As he moved through parishes in and around Boston—from the edges of the city to the tony suburbs beyond—he was known as "Father Jack" to the people in the pews. He baptized their babies. He celebrated their weddings. He prayed over their dead, sprinkling the caskets with holy water. On Saturday afternoons, he sat in the dark and, from behind a screen, listened to their sins and meted out their penance. On Sunday mornings, he delivered the word of God to them.
For faithful Catholic mothers, especially those struggling to raise a large family by themselves, Geoghan seemed a godsend. He was there on their doorsteps with an offer to help. He’d take their sons out for ice cream. He’d read to them at bedtime. He would pray with them beside their beds. He would tuck them in for the night.
And then, in the near darkness, their parish priest would fondle them in their nightclothes, pressing a finger to his lips and swearing them to secrecy.
"He looked like a little altar boy," said Maryetta Dussourd, who eagerly and proudly allowed Geoghan access to the small apartment where she lived with her daughter, three sons, and four of their cousins in Jamaica Plain. Geoghan was a calculating predator whose deceptive charm opened many doors.
As he sits today in oversized prison-issued clothing, John J. Geoghan is perhaps the nation’s most conspicuous example of a sexually abusive member of the clergy, not just because of the stunning number of his victims—nearly two hundred have come forward so far—but because of the delicate and deceptive way the Church handled his sins. For more than two decades, even as two successive cardinals and dozens of Church officials in the Boston archdiocese learned that Geoghan could not control his compulsion to attack children, Geoghan found extraordinary solace in the Church’s culture of secrecy.
"Yours has been an effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness. On behalf of those you have served well, and in my own name, I would like to thank you," Cardinal Bernard F. Law wrote to Geoghan in 1996, long after the priest’s assaults had been detected. "I understand yours is a painful situation. The passion we share can indeed seem unbearable and unrelenting. We are our best selves when we respond in honesty and trust. God bless you, Jack."
Geoghan was one among many. And while the breadth of his assaults was vast, they were perhaps not as horrific as those committed by fellow priests who in some cases violently raped their young prey and then shooed them away as they resumed their priestly ministry. If it was a secret to the daily communicants and the congregations that filled the churches on Sunday mornings, it was common knowledge among Church leaders, who heard the anguished pleas from the mothers and fathers of children abused by priests. They promised to address the problem. They vowed they would not let it happen again. And then they did.
When Maryetta Dussourd discovered that Geoghan was molesting her boys—one of them just four years old—she found no solace from her friends or her church. Fellow parishioners shunned her. They accused her of provoking scandal. Church officials implored her to keep quiet. It was for the sake of the children, they said. Don’t sue, they warned her. They told her that no one would believe her.
"Everything you have taught your child about God and safety and trust—it is destroyed," said Dussourd, whose claims against the Church were settled in a 1997 confidential agreement—like scores of others in which the victims received money and the Church obtained their silence.
Until January 2002, when this scandal erupted, priests were the men whose Roman collars conferred upon them the reflexive trust of parents who considered it an honor to have them in their homes. That was certainly how it had been with Geoghan. On warm summer days when he arrived without notice and offered to take their little boys out for ice cream cones, they swelled with pride and wished the priest well on his outing with their kids. When he showed up on their doorstep at night offering bedtime stories, they were certain that God had smiled on their children.
John J. Geoghan’s priestly career nearly ended just as it was beginning.
When Monsignor John J. Murray, the rector of Cardinal O’Connell Seminary in Jamaica Plain, reviewed Geoghan’s performance in the summer of 1954, he was not impressed. His faculty was concerned about Geoghan. They considered the nineteen-year-old seminarian decidedly immature, a characteristic not entirely evident in a casual setting. Further, they found Geoghan "feminine in his manner of speech and approach."
"Scholastically he is a problem," Murray concluded in a letter to a colleague. "To be sure he received passing grades in most subjects, but I still have serious doubts about his ability to do satisfactory work in future studies." As he considered whether to recommend Geoghan to superiors at St. John’s Seminary in nearby Brighton, the next academic rung in a ladder that would lead to Geoghan’s ordination, Murray opted to look on the bright side. "In his favor are the following good qualities: a very fervent spiritual life, industry, determination to succeed, happy disposition, obedience, docility, interest in and regard for others, and respected by his contemporaries. Perhaps maturity will bring to this young man the qualities he needs in order to be successful in his quest for the priesthood."
Perhaps. But the troubled Geoghan, in a pattern that would repeat itself for more than thirty years, would need help from on high. This time he found it from a monsignor he could call his own: his uncle.
Geoghan’s father, whom he recalled as a kind and generous man, died when he was just five years old. And although he would later remember his namesake’s funeral as spiritually uplifting, the death of his father struck the young boy hard: he wet his bed for two years as he struggled with the loss. Geoghan considered his mother a saintly woman who provided for him and his older sister a household of prayer and normalcy. It was, he said, a happy childhood. And in his mother’s brother, Monsignor Mark H. Keohane, he found a father figure, role model, and protector. "The perfect substitute father," Geoghan said of his uncle, who would dress his young nephew in the vestments of a priest for festive neighborhood parades at the family’s summer home in Scituate, a picture-postcard seaside community twenty-six miles south of Boston and locally known as the Irish Riviera. It was a summer haunt for wealthy and influential Irish-Americans, among them legendary former Boston Mayor James Michael Curley.
Keohane was a formidable figure. Autocratic, old-school, domineering, and—some would say—mean. But Geoghan saw only his "great work and sacrifices." And when Geoghan again ran into trouble in the seminary, Keohane was there to run interference for his nephew.
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."
One priest, a former colleague of Geoghan, said he never had a chance to form a friendship with him because Geoghan was frequently out of the rectory while other priests were eating together, or reading, or otherwise socializing.
"I found him different, I must say. I mean, I just didn’t know how to react to him. He was different," added Rev. Thomas W. Moriarty, who was pastor at St. Paul’s Church in Hingham, south of Boston, where Geoghan served from 1967 to 1974. "Something is wrong.... Something is not right here, but you can’t put your finger on it."
While he served with Moriarty in Hingham, on the shore south of Boston, Geoghan found time to befriend Joanne Mueller, a single mother of four boys who lived in Melrose, twenty-three miles away. Mueller’s mother knew Geoghan from his days at Blessed Sacrament and she introduced her daughter to the priest.
Soon Geoghan was a familiar figure in Mueller’s home. As with some of his other victims, he took the boys for ice cream. He read them books at night. He helped get the boys in and out of the bathtub. Mueller would slip out for errands, and Geoghan would baby-sit for an hour here or an hour there. "He was our friend," Mueller said. If Geoghan disappeared upstairs into the boys’ bedroom, she didn’t give it a second thought.
One night in 1973, when Geoghan called asking to come over for a visit, the reaction of Mueller’s third son, then seven or eight, surprised her. The boy did not want Geoghan in his home. He grew increasingly upset when his mother pressed him about his reluctance to see the priest she considered a valued friend.
"And then finally he broke out in tears...," Mueller recalled. "He kept saying, ‘No, no, no. I don’t want him coming down.’ He was insisting and I shouted back at him and I said, ‘Why? What? What is it?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want him touching my wee-wee.’ I hate to be so blunt, but that’s what he said."
Mueller was shocked. "I said, ‘What? What do you mean? What are you saying?’ You know, I didn’t understand. And then the next thing he blurted out was, ‘I don’t want him doing that to my wee-wee.’
"And that I will never forget. Because it was dawning on me, just shock and horror, that, you know, he’s saying this. And, I mean, this isn’t just a normal thing he’s saying, and for a kid to say that. So now it dawned on me. I mean, this is awful. I said, ‘What?’ And he literally threw himself on the floor and sobbed. He was completely hysterical."
Soon, so too was the entire Mueller household. Her five-year-old dissolved into tears. She summoned her two other boys, who were upstairs. When their mother asked for details about Geoghan’s conduct, they stood speechless at first. And then they began to cry. Her oldest boy told her, "Father said we couldn’t talk about it and tell you, never to tell you because it was a confessional."
Mueller was overwhelmed—Geoghan, at that very moment, was on his way to her home. It was raining. The weather was cool. She grabbed some jackets for the kids and headed for her local rectory, St. Mary’s in Melrose, where she and her boys met with Rev. Paul E. Miceli, a parish priest who knew both Geoghan and Mueller’s family.
Mueller said Miceli counseled her sons "to try to not think about this; to forget about it. ‘Bad as it was,’ he said, ‘just try. Don’t think about it. It will never happen again.’... He said, ‘He will never be a priest again. It will never happen again.’ He reassured me."
Miceli, until recently a member of Cardinal Law’s cabinet, contradicted Mueller in a court deposition. He said he did not recall her name and had never received a visit of the sort she described. But Miceli acknowledged receiving a call from a woman saying Geoghan was spending too much time with her children. Miceli testified that the caller said nothing about sexual abuse. Nonetheless, Miceli said he drove to Geoghan’s new parish in Jamaica Plain to relay the woman’s concerns to Geoghan face-to-face.
After Hingham, Geoghan’s next stop was St. Andrew’s, in the Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain, where he served from 1974 to 1980.
Jamaica Plain was where Maryetta Dussourd was raising her own four children—three boys and a girl—as well as her niece’s four boys. In her hardscrabble neighborhood, she hoped there was a priest the children could look up to. Then she met Geoghan. He supervised the parish’s altar boys and Boy Scout troop. Geoghan was eager to help her too. Before long, he was visiting her apartment almost every evening—for nearly two years. He routinely took the seven boys out for ice cream and put them to sleep at night.
Dussourd worked hard to please Geoghan. When the priest mentioned that his uncle, the monsignor, had taken away his teddy bear when he was growing up, she bought him a blue one for his fortieth birthday. The gift delighted him.
All that time, Geoghan was regularly molesting the seven boys in their bedrooms. In some cases, he performed oral sex on them. Other times, he fondled their genitals or forced them to fondle his—occasionally as he prayed. An archdiocesan memo dated December 30, 1994, and labeled "personal and confidential," said Geoghan would stay in the Dussourd home even when he was on a three-day retreat because he missed the children so much. He "would touch them while they were sleeping and waken them by playing with their penises."
Dussourd discovered what was happening after the children finally told her sister, Margaret Gallant. When Dussourd asked one of her sons to confirm the abuse, he told her about the time Geoghan asked him to stay overnight at the home of the priest’s elderly mother. It was a night her son had never before spoken about—and never wanted to.
"Father Geoghan’s mother had put him [Dussourd’s son] in a bedroom across from Father Geoghan’s," Dussourd said. "And [he said] that three times during the night Father Geoghan had gone over to his room, and that he was making him feel very uncomfortable and he asked to go home.... He said that Father Geoghan then brought him over into his bedroom, which was across the hall.... He sat him up on his bed and he started to touch him.... He was touching my son’s genitals. He asked him to stop and he was crying. He was crying very loudly.... And he continued to ask him to take him home, which he didn’t, and after the episode was done, he returned him to his room.
"My son further told me that the next morning when they went down to breakfast that his mother questioned both Father John Geoghan and my son as to why my son was crying. She said she thought she had heard my son several times through the night." When Dussourd asked her son why he never told her about the abuse, "He said because Father Geoghan told him that I would never believe him, that I loved the Church too much, that I wouldn’t believe my own son."
Horrified, Dussourd complained to Rev. John E. Thomas, the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, a nearby parish. Thomas confronted Geoghan with the allegations and was taken aback when Geoghan casually admitted they were true. "He said, ‘Yes, that’s all true,’" said one Church official who asked not to be named. It was as if Geoghan had been asked "if he preferred chocolate or vanilla ice cream."
Thomas promptly drove to the chancery, the archdiocesan headquarters in Brighton, to notify Bishop Thomas V. Daily, administrator of the archdiocese. In Thomas’s presence that Saturday afternoon, February 9, 1980, Daily telephoned Geoghan at St. Andrew’s and, in a brief conversation, delivered a curt directive: "Go home," the official said.
Geoghan protested, saying there was no one else to celebrate the 4 p.m. Mass.
"I’ll say the Mass myself," Daily insisted. "Go home."
Geoghan disappeared from the parish.
Several weeks later a contrite Thomas came to Dussourd’s apartment. He told her that Geoghan had admitted to abusing the boys but had excused his behavior by telling the pastor, "It was only two families." Thomas later pleaded with Dussourd not to follow through on her threat to go public, she said. He cited the years Geoghan had spent studying for the priesthood, and the consequences for Geoghan if the accusations against him were publicized.
"Do you realize what you’re taking from him?" Dussourd said Thomas asked her.
Geoghan spent the next year—from early 1980 to early 1981—on sick leave, but living with his mother in West Roxbury. In February 1981, he was sent to his fifth parish, St. Brendan’s, in the Dorchester section of Boston. And almost immediately, Geoghan was working with first communicants, befriending children and their parents, even taking some boys to his family’s summer home in Scituate.
There, at the Geoghan family home on the Atlantic Ocean, parents would later discover, Geoghan’s sexual attacks continued.
Church officials knew about Geoghan’s pedophilia. He was shuttled from parish to parish to avoid public scandal. There were whispers in the rectories about his affliction. There were memos about his treatment. But the details about the predator priest—common knowledge to some of his colleagues—were a closely held secret to be kept from the parishioners who welcomed him into their homes.
When Rev. William C. Francis was asked in 2001 what he knew about Geoghan, he explained, "Well, when he was removed from St. Brendan’s in Dorchester, there was talk that he had been fooling around with kids."
Francis’s simple reply belied the explosive substance of the gossip in the rectories. Indeed, Geoghan’s long history of treatment, denial, and recidivism had already begun by the late 1960s, and perhaps even earlier. A. W. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former priest, said Geoghan received treatment for sex abuse at the Seton Institute in Baltimore, where Sipe then worked. That treatment occurred about the same time that Leonard Muzzi Jr. discovered Geoghan in his Hingham home at the bedside of his son. Geoghan’s hands were under the blankets. Muzzi ordered Geoghan out of his house and told him never to return. But a few nights later, Geoghan was back sitting on Muzzi’s couch with his three children.
That sort of brazen conduct was frequently reflected in Geoghan’s discussions with those who evaluated and treated him at a series of inpatient treatment centers. The priest would admit to sexual abuse. But Geoghan was apparently unable to see why his sexual assaults would have a serious effect on his priestly career. He would advise a young boy on the eve of his first Holy Communion and then take him into his shower at home, where he would fondle the boy until he ejaculated. And Geoghan, who was also accused of fondling a young boy in the bleachers at Fenway Park while watching a Boston Red Sox game, had a ready explanation for the avalanche of allegations that built up against him over the years: It was the children’s fault.
"While I was at St. Andrew’s, many of the youngsters I was involved with were from troubled homes," he said. "I recalled these two boys and I remembered their home situation. Both were severely disturbed children under treatment at various hospitals and clinics, both admitting to sexual abuse at the hands of anyone: doctors, teachers, friends. Anyone! I don’t think they were able to distinquish between normal and abnormal, good or bad, right or wrong."
And as the years wore on, the same could be said for Geoghan’s superiors in the Church. The man whose uncle had helped smooth his path to the priesthood expected help from above. He would pick up the phone or write a letter, seeking an intercession. Rarely was he disappointed.
Rev. Francis H. Delaney, a pastor at one of the churches Geoghan served, deflected allegations against his associate pastor in 1979 by questioning the credibility of his accuser. Geoghan, Delaney maintained, was "an outstanding, dedicated priest who is doing superior work" and "a zealous man of prayer who consistently gives of himself in furthering the cause of Christ." This was the same Francis Delaney who, while living in the rectory with Geoghan, once asked his housekeeper about the young voices he heard upstairs. "And the housekeeper, whoever that was, said that Father Geoghan had some urchins up there letting them use the shower, so I confronted him on that and said, ‘You know the rule.’ And he denied it vehemently, but I had no proof," Delaney said.
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.
This time, after a ten-day stay at the St. Luke Institute, a Catholic psychiatric hospital in Maryland, the diagnosis was far less optimistic than earlier judgments. "It is our clinical judgment that Father Geoghan has a long-standing and continuing problem with sexual attraction to prepubescent males," the evaluation read. "His recognition of the problem and his insight into it is limited." Therapists at St. Luke advised that Geoghan have no unsupervised contact with minor males and that he return for residential treatment. For his part, Geoghan found the staff confrontational, but while at St. Luke he admitted that he had "inappropriate sexual activity with prepubertal boys in the early 1960s," an admission that directly contradicted an earlier contention to therapists that he had not been sexually attracted to children before 1976.
In early 1995, steeling himself for the gathering storm of civil lawsuits against him, Geoghan and his sister struck a business deal. Just months after prosecutors began a criminal investigation, and a year before the first civil lawsuits were filed against him, Geoghan sold his sister his half-interest in two houses he owned with her to a real estate trust she controlled. The two homes, a large brick-and-stucco colonial in West Roxbury and the oceanfront home in Scituate, were once owned by the Geoghans’ mother and their uncle the monsignor.
The two houses—in the family for a half century and together worth from $895,000 to $1.3 million—were now Catherine Geoghan’s alone to control. And they were legally out of the reach of the people who claimed that her brother the priest had attacked them. "My mother said she didn’t think anything should be left in my brother’s name because he’s so generous and so kind to everybody that he wouldn’t have a cent," Catherine Geoghan said. "We wouldn’t have a house over our heads because he was always helping people out. So she thought it was better if just my name was on it." Now, with Geoghan’s legal trouble advancing, his mother’s wish came true. The price Catherine paid for the homes was $1 each.
Increasingly isolated, increasingly desperate, Geoghan grew anxious and bitter. He had difficulty sleeping, and when sleep did come it was fitful. He gained weight. In some respects Geoghan considered himself "already dead," but he assured his therapist that while he was scared, anxious, and afraid, he was not suicidal.
"I have been falsely accused and feel alienated from my ministry and fellowship with my brother priests," he wrote to then Monsignor William F. Murphy after Murphy asked for his resignation as associate director of the Office for Senior Priests in late 1995. Geoghan refused Murphy’s request, considering resignation tantamount to an admission of guilt, which he would not concede. "Where is there justice or due process?" he asked.
Geoghan, still mourning his "saintly" mother’s 1994 death, expressed anger at God for the indignity that was visited upon her in her final days: her incontinence, her helplessness. He tried to buoy himself with a trip to Ireland with the then ninety-three-year-old Monsignor Keohane. He came home with gifts for his therapist. "He gave me a package of three nips of Bailey’s Irish Cream," Messner recalled. "He was enthusiastic about his vacation in Ireland with his uncle, despite the pall over him."
"I enjoy a lot: family, friends, good food, good conversation, but I get tired easily," Geoghan said. He took up golf again. He helped his sister clean out her attic. He gathered salt marsh hay near his home in Scituate for use in his garden. When friends visited from Ireland, he played tour guide and showed them the cranberry bogs of Plymouth and the Hyannis Port compound on Cape Cod that was still home to the extended Kennedy family. He tried to focus his day by gardening, cooking, even cleaning his room at Regina Cleri, the residence for older priests. He even joined his uncle in the celebration of Mass there. And, he confided to his psychiatrist, he was still sexually attracted to boys.
Finally, Law had had enough. In January 1996 he removed Geoghan from his post at Regina Cleri and, weeks later, ordered Geoghan into a residential treatment center, writing, "I know that this is a difficult moment for you." Geoghan resisted. The Church wanted him to attend meetings of Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Geoghan refused. He insisted he wasn’t tempted. The Church wasn’t convinced. "I see no signs that Father Geoghan has taken the steps that addicted people seem to feel are essential to recovery," Flatley, who was handling Geoghan’s case for the archdiocese, wrote. "He has not joined a group. He does not attend 12-step meetings. He has not been receiving ongoing counseling."
Indeed, Geoghan was digging in his heels. He believed inpatient counseling unnecessary and punitive. "I feel depressed, tired and beaten—on the verge of death row," he said. "I feel condemned." He scrutinized Church law to determine his rights and found the bishops held all the power. He was at their mercy. He wondered about retreating to his family’s home, where he would live with his sister. But in July 1996, a Waltham, Massachusetts, woman filed a lawsuit against him, alleging that he sexually abused her three sons after she asked him to counsel them and be the father figure she felt the boys needed after their father moved out.
This was the first time, after decades of abuse, that Geoghan’s problem with children became public, and it provoked a hand-delivered letter from Law with an ultimatum. Geoghan could choose inpatient analysis in Maryland or at the Southdown Institute in Canada, but he must go. Geoghan again balked, but his elderly uncle counseled him that the priesthood was worth any price, and Geoghan agreed to pay it by going to the Canadian treatment facility. The day after he arrived he said he was doing fine.
By the end of the year, Geoghan’s treatment in Canada and what was left of his active priesthood would be over. The archdiocese declared him "permanently disabled." At age sixty-one, it agreed to finance his retirement from its clergy medical fund. Geoghan looked forward to taking college courses in creative writing and computer science. "Thank you for the permissions granted me. I also appreciate the warmth of your letter," Geoghan wrote Law, acknowledging the cardinal’s letter granting his retirement. "I am sure it was as difficult for you to write as it was for me to read."
As the Church opened its season of Advent in 1996—a bright time of preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth—Cardinal Law may well have believed he had heard the last of John J. Geoghan and the allegations against him.
But what he had heard was barely the beginning.
Excerpted from Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church, published by Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
For complete coverage of the priest abuse scandal, go to http://www.boston.com/globe/abuse