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Spotlight Report

Police probed priest on sex abuse as early as 1986

But the case was dropped when he denied charge

By Stephen Kurkjian and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 1/25/2002

 Transcript
Letters show Geoghan in denial
'Appropriate' steps promised
Police probed Geoghan in 1986

Not every allegation of sexual abuse made against the Rev. John J. Geoghan in the 1980s remained a secret inside the Boston Archdiocese.

In 1986, the Boston Police Department and the state Department of Social Services investigated an accusation that Geoghan sexually molested a 10-year-old Jamaica Plain boy, according to internal church documents. But Geoghan denied the allegation and the inquiry was dropped.

A decade -- and numerous Geoghan victims -- later, the case was reopened by the Suffolk district attorney's office, and Geoghan was indicted in 1999 on charges of raping the child. His trial on that charge is scheduled to start Feb. 20.

Meanwhile, other church files released in the Geoghan civil litigation this week contain no mention of accusations that Geoghan molested children before 1980, suggesting that, at least in Geoghan's case, the archdiocese did not begin keeping written documents until Geoghan admitted in 1980 that he had abused seven boys in one family.

Despite the absence of records of abuse during his first 18 years as a priest, from 1962 to 1980, interviews with some of Geoghan's victims and depositions of church officials show that the archdiocese was aware of his molestation of children during those years.

According to the church files, archdiocesan officials never referred any allegations of sexual abuse that it received about Geoghan to law enforcement or DSS. Instead, they sought to rehabilitate him by placing him on sick leave, or sending him to local physicians before moving him to another parish.

In February 1986, however, the boyfriend of a woman who was living in Jamaica Plain notified DSS and Boston police that Geoghan had been spending too much time with the woman's son for several years, and may have been sexually abusing the boy.

According to an account that Geoghan gave in March 1989 to the Rev. Robert J. Banks, then the archdiocese's administrator, the mother's boyfriend told authorities that Geoghan had fondled the boy when he had taken him to a nearby swimming pool. In summarizing the case, the Rev. John B. McCormack, then head of ministerial affairs for the archdiocese, said the 10-year-old had mimicked practicing oral sex on his 3-year-old brother and said that he had learned to do it from the "Father."

However, Geoghan said he had denied any such abuse to the two Boston police officers who had questioned him -- Edward Simmons and Margaret O'Malley. In an interview with Banks, Geoghan said the police and DSS had dropped the case because of "discrepancies" in the accounts given by him and the family.

A DSS spokeswoman said yesterday an initial review of the agency's computer database could not locate the case. In a statement, the police acknowledged that O'Malley, then head of the department's sexual assault unit, and Simmons, who was also assigned to the unit, had investigated and dropped two allegations of indecent assault by Geoghan during the 1980s, including the one involving the 10-year-old.

The reason that Geoghan was not prosecuted had nothing to do with his denial of the allegations or any discrepancies in accounts, according to police spokeswoman Mariellen Burns.

Rather it was because "there was no physical evidence in either case, and in both cases, the victims and their families refused to cooperate in any prosecution," the statement said.

In 1986, as now, it is the policy of both the Police Department and the district attorney's office not to force victims of sexual assault to testify against their will, according to the department's statement, so "in the absence of any other evidence in these matters, the decision was made not to prosecute either case."

In 1999, the alleged victim, then 25, contacted the Suffolk district attorney about the allegations and said he was willing to testify. Geoghan was then indicted on two counts of rape on Dec. 11, 1999. The trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 20.

Burns said she believes that the victim was not interviewed by the sexual assault unit in 1986 because members of his family refused to make him available to the investigators.

Among the thousands of pages of documents, there appear to be none that document accusations -- or even suspicions -- that Geoghan was abusing children in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yet one family of victims in Hingham reported him to church officials in the late 1960s. Geoghan was hospitalized at least once for treatment of pedophilia -- in the late 1960s.

And one priest, who served with Geoghan while he was at St. Paul's in Hingham from 1967 to 1974, said Geoghan was on sick leave for almost all of his final year in the parish. Yet that absence is omitted from his official records.

Monsignor Francis J. McGann, who served at St. Paul's in Hingham for part of the time Geoghan was there, said in a deposition that on his first day at the parish, in May 1973, he was told by a church secretary, and later by Geoghan himself, that Geoghan had "become ill while celebrating Mass that morning."

The following Sunday, Geoghan again fell ill during Mass, prompting him to go to his mother's house in West Roxbury, McGann said.

Geoghan stayed out sick for the next year. Yet no sick leave is noted in Geoghan's archdiocesan records for 1973-74, which indicate he was a parochial vicar at St. Paul's from April 1967 to June 1974.

Furthermore, according to McGann's deposition, Geoghan was "officially assigned to St. Paul's in Hingham during that period even though he wasn't -- wasn't there."

McGann said he was told by Geoghan and Geoghan's mother, Katherine Geoghan, that he suffered from "an inner ear infection that became a systemic infection that prevented his functioning."

The documents also show that at least one of Geoghan's colleagues had early reservations about him.

The Rev. Thomas W. Moriarty, the pastor at St. Paul's for part of the time Geoghan was assigned there, said he felt that "something is not right" with Geoghan, according to a deposition transcript in which he described Geoghan as "different."

Asked to elaborate, Moriarty, who was pastor at St. Paul's from 1972 to 1973, said, "Well, I will put it this way. My nephew is a licensed independent social worker. He counsels people, and he found the same thing. Something is wrong. I mean, something is not right here, but what is it you can't put your finger on."

Moriarty, as well as McGann, is named as a defendant in some of the civil suits filed against Geoghan.

Church documents also show that archdiocesan officials appear to have made efforts to move Geoghan out of state in 1997, the year after he was placed on "senior priest retirement status" and the year before he was defrocked.

"I spoke to Father Geoghan today regarding the proposal he make a visit to Alma, Michigan, and the Sisters of Mercy," the Rev. William F. Murphy wrote in a memo to himself on February 18, 1997, adding that, "Father Geoghan has concluded that he lacks sufficient emotional strength for a move to Michigan."

In a May 21, 1997, memo to himself, Murphy remained anxious: "I'm concerned about John Geoghan staying in his present location. I would like to see him move up to Georgetown."

Indeed, by late 1997 church, officials were making aggressive efforts to distance Geoghan from the archdiocese, documents show.

In a Nov. 13, 1997, letter to Geoghan, the director of Regina Cleri, a home for retired priests in downtown Boston, notified Geoghan that his apartment there had been assigned to another priest and his belongings would be shipped to him by a moving service.

Several months later, in a March 5, 1998, letter, the director wrote again to remind Geoghan that Regina Cleri was no longer his "official address" and to inform him that his mail would be forwarded to Geoghan's Scituate home.

"Under no circumstance is it possible for you to have a mailbox or mailing address here," wrote Monsignor James E. Tierney. "I ask that under no circumstance you use this as a return address."

Walter V. Robinson and Michael Rezendes of the Globe Staff contributed to this article.


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