The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Catholics welcome new resolve on clergy sex abuse

By Caroline Louise Cole, and Michele Kurtz, Globe Correspondents, 1/21/2002

From a Boston cathedral to a community church in Haverhill, parishioners attending Mass yesterday welcomed the Catholic Church's new willingness to deal publicly with allegations of sexual misconduct by priests.

On the first Sunday since defrocked priest John Geoghan was convicted of indecently touching a 10-year-old boy, many parishioners struggled to digest the finding. Geoghan has been accused of molesting at least 130 children since the 1960s, and he faces another criminal trial next month and scores of civil lawsuits.

His case has shone a harsh spotlight on the church and Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who apologized earlier this month for sending Geoghan to his final assignment, St. Julia's parish in Weston in 1984, after he knew the priest had been accused of pedophilia.

Law has ordered priests and other employees of the Boston Archdiocese to report any future allegations of sexual molestation learned outside the confessional to law enforcement authorities.

"I'm glad they're not covering it up anymore," said James Broughton, 68, a member for 40 years of the Church of St. Brendan in Dorchester, where Geoghan worked in the early 1980s. "I think something should have been done with this priest years ago. The clergy knew about it and should have put him away somewhere."

At St. Brendan's, the Rev. James F. Fratus told parishioners he thinks that Law's policies will help address the issue of child abuse by priests.

"No one can erase the past," said Fratus, who used his weekly newsletter to urge parishioners to pray for Geoghan's victims and all clergy. "All of us have a responsibility to make sure children are protected from abuse."

But after Mass, Broughton's daughter, Ann Broughton, 39, a former member of the parish, said Law's recent apology and new policies aren't enough. She called on the cardinal to resign.

In Haverhill, another parish was struggling with charges of sexual abuse. Last week, the Rev. Kelvin E. Iguabita, 33, formerly of All Saints Church in Haverhill, was arraigned on charges that he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl who worked in the rectory between July and September 2000. Iguabita left the parish abruptly last June and was ordered to take a medical leave of absence after a woman reported that she had consensual sex with him.

"As a parish, we will pull through this because we always do, but I just wish the church had been more upfront several years ago," said Marge Fargnoli, a retired secretary who attended Mass at All Saints yesterday.

That viewpoint was seconded by Margaret Ryan, 83.

"I'm very pleased with how this current situation is being handled, because I don't think things should be swept under the rug," Ryan said. "These things need to be out in the open so we can take care of them."

The Rev. Dennis J. Nason, the church's senior pastor, told his flock that this past week he was ashamed to wear his clerical collar in public for the first time "for fear of what people would think of me."

But he added, "Any pain, anger, or suffering I feel isn't matched by what victims of sexual abuse experience."

Nason was also quick to remind congregants that all humans are flawed and that they need their faith and the support of their parish family for healing to begin.

Law, after leading Mass yesterday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, said he would not comment on the guilty verdict in Geoghan's case beyond the statement he released on Friday that extended the archdiocese's "prayers for all victims of sexual abuse and their families."

Law acknowledged that Geoghan's behavior, and his own role in allowing it to continue, has exacted a devastating personal toll on him.

"It's the most difficult thing I've had to face in my whole life," Law said.

To reassure parishioners, Law said he would not shy from addressing sex abuse by clergy in sermons or through other means.

"I would imagine, and it would be my intent, to do something in the not-too-distant future to address it again for the parishioners of the archdiocese," Law said.

Corey Dade of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 1/21/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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