The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Romney can do better

By Brian McGrory, Globe Columnist, 9/5/2003

It was just a few months ago when the rest of the world was accusing America of trying to remake Iraq in its own image.

Ends up they had it backward. Every day now, America is looking more and more like Iraq.

Since the president has declared his mission, ahem, accomplished, we've had a blackout that rivals anything in Baghdad. The nation's physical infrastructure is cracking at the core. And California's political system is in shambles.

Beyond this, there's the Massachusetts prison system, which appears to be straight out of Tikrit. The most visible inmate in state custody, John Geoghan, was murdered in what is supposed to be the system's most sophisticated institution, the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. And rather than decisive action, what we get is the bureaucratic shuffle.

As sympathetic characters go, Geoghan isn't great. In life, he was an odd combination of a predator and a simpleton, an evil moron enabled by church leaders who would sacrifice any child and imperil any parish to protect their own reputations.

In death, he deserved better than what he got. Men defecated on his bed, fouled his food, and tormented him at every turn. And those were the guards. That not being enough, they trumped up petty disciplinary charges against him.

Bureaucrats, in turn, moved him from the medium-security facility in Concord to the maximum-security institution in Shirley, despite a prison board's recommendation that he remain where he was.

And then the geniuses in our state government placed the decrepit 68-year-old pedophile in the same unit as a homicidal 37-year-old white supremacist with a documented hatred of homosexuals. They were shocked that one of them wound up dead.

So let's go to Mitt Romney's quotes in the aftermath. He said the mingling of the two men was "not an ideal mixture." He said we need to "learn" from the murder. He asked, "OK, what can we do better?"

Hey, Mitt, calm yourself down.

Even worse, the three-man panel he named to probe the slaying has been bogged down by charges of a whitewash. The members are connected to the administration, so as prisoner advocate Leslie Walker said yesterday, "You have three guys investigating their own team."

Romney's investigation is starting to look a lot like the Romney Big Dig cost recovery plan that's still sitting in committee. And those are starting to look like Romney's economic program, which is yet to even be proposed.

Enter Edward Flynn, Romney's secretary of public safety. He's a thinking man's cop with a wide range of experience, and yesterday, he was on the phone vowing "to find cultural problems in the units, bad practices, policy breakdowns."

But amid the tough talk, he remained adamant about keeping the same three-man investigative team in place regardless of the outcry against it.

On this one, Flynn is stubbing his toe. The state's most notorious prisoner is dead, something that hasn't happened since Albert DiSalvo was stabbed at Walpole. The problem of harassment is undoubtedly widespread. This is no time for a personnel stand.

So back to Romney's question. He can start by firing Michael Maloney, the commissioner of the Department of Correction for the past six years. Believe me, in private life, Mitt fired better people for less. That one stroke sends a message to every prison in the state that the current culture is coming to an end.

Then he adds an academic or outside specialist to the investigative team to quell the justifiable criticism.

Then he can rail. In a society as civilized as ours, no child in state stewardship will be abused. No person in dire need will be shunted. Not even a pedophile in state custody will be imperiled. It's how you measure basic decency, and we are, beyond anything else, a decent people.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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