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Officials avoided confronting priest

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 1/24/2002

 Related stories
Memos offer split view of priest
Letters show gentle approach
Officials avoided confronting priest
Church long supported Geoghan

 In-depth
Top church officials, such as Bishop John B. McCormack, have been implicated in systematic abuse coverups.  
Coverage of archdiocese coverups

Although several of his colleagues had been told by parishioners or had suspected on their own that the Rev. John J. Geoghan was sexually abusing boys, they did not always inform their superiors in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston of the allegations.

But the few times that the problem became known to archdiocesan officials, they avoided confronting Geoghan. They never summoned law enforcement authorities and only infrequently offered solace to the victims, according to transcripts of more than a dozen depositions taken in the civil suits against Geoghan, the archdiocese, and some of its top prelates.

The transcripts reflect a consistent institutional failure by the archdiocese to deal decisively with the problem presented by Geoghan.

In their depositions, the priests indicate that there was little effort by the archdiocese or the two men who led it during most of Geo ghan's tenure, Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros and Cardinal Bernard F. Law, to determine how extensive his abuses might have been or whether the problem was pervasive among other priests.

"I am not a policeman; I am a shepherd," said Bishop Thomas V. Daily, when questioned about why he had not acted more decisively when he was informed in 1980 that a parishioner at St. Thomas Church in Jamaica Plain had accused Geoghan of abusing her several sons and nephews.

It was not the first complaint against Geoghan from a Jamaica Plain family. A year earlier, the pastor of St. Andrew Parish informed Daily that he had been told by a mother that Geoghan had abused her son. Without summoning the mother to ask her about the allegation, Daily wrote to Geoghan that he had been cleared of the charge by the parish priest.

In addition, Daily said that the Rev. William C. Francis, then the chaplain for the Boston Police Department, had found the charges were "irresponsible, totally false, [and] made by a woman who is well known and without credence in the community."

Daily was chancellor of the archdiocese under Medeiros and is now head of the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. He said he believed at the time, incorrectly, that priests had immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for sexual abuse. As a result, like other archdiocesan officials, Daily likened Geoghan to a lost sheep who needed to be brought back into the fold.

"I am a pastor who has to go after the Lord's sheep and find them and bring them back into the fold and give them the kind of guidance and discipline them in such a way that they will come back," said Daily.

After being briefed on the allegations, Daily ordered that Geoghan be placed on sick leave in February 1980. It lasted about a year until Geoghan was re assigned to St. Brendan Parish in Dorchester and before long began visiting the home of the boys that he had allegedly raped at St. Thomas Parish.

Incensed by Geoghan's re appearance, four adult relatives of the boys sought a meeting with Daily in July 1982 to determine why Geoghan was still a priest. Within a month, Daily summoned Geoghan to his office to question him about the new accusations.

However, Daily acknowledged in his deposition that, wanting to avoid any allegation of sexual abuse, he questioned Geoghan as to whether he should be taking the boys out at night.

"And the main thrust was that he was keeping the youngsters out too long," Daily said. After Geoghan denied he had been acting inappropriately with the boys, Daily allowed him to go on a planned sabbatical to Rome and then return to parish work.

Bishop John B. McCormack played a similarly important role in personnel matters after Law became archbishop of Boston in 1984, serving as a secretary in his Cabinet in charge of clergy personnel matters. In 1993, when Law announced a new program to seek complaints from parishioners about sexual abuse by priests, he put McCormack, who was not yet a bishop, in charge of the effort.

One early complaint McCormack received related to Geoghan and the allegations that had been raised in 1980 by the relatives of the seven boys in Jamaica Plain. McCormack dispatched his assistant, Sister Catherine E. Mulkerrin, to interview one of the relatives.

In her report, Mulkerrin said she found Maryetta Dussourd to be intelligent, gentle, and idealistic, and Mulkerrin faulted church officials for moving so slowly on her complaint concerning Geoghan.

"This follow-up is turtle-like," she wrote to McCormack in March 1994. "There is a lot of dysfunction and time lapses between connections -- not all due to the family."

But in her deposition last month, Mulkerrin denied that she was placing any blame on anyone within the archdiocese for failing to move on Dussourd's complaints.

"I think the meaning here was really the dysfunction of the woman I interviewed," Mulkerrin said, "between not wanting to do anything that would hurt Father [Geoghan] and knowing that her own children were hurt."

Pressed on whether the archdiocese had acted decisively on allegations such as those raised by Dussourd, Mulkkerin said: "My sense was that people, those to whom these things were reported, acted in the way they knew how -- to make a retreat, repent, go away for a while, get an extended retreat with a special spiritual director."

McCormack, who now heads the Catholic Diocese of Manchester, N.H., was replaced by the Rev. Paul E. Micelli. In 1974, when Micelli was the parish priest at St. Mary parish in Melrose, one of his parishioners, Joanne Mueller, told him that Geoghan had molested four of her sons.

In his deposition, Micelli said that while he had received a call from Mueller about Geoghan's spending too much time with her sons, he could not recall her saying anything about sexual abuse. Micelli confirmed that he had driven from Melrose to Geoghan's parish in Jamacia Plain to relay the woman's concerns to Geoghan face to face, but he said he had not told the archdiocese of the complaint.

This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 1/24/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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