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Spotlight Report

Spotlight Report   FOLLOW-UP

For father and son, a shared anguish

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 2/3/2002


Christopher Fulchino, at age 10 or 11.
Like other victims of pedophile priests, Tom remembers vividly what happened just after he was molested in a dark corridor at Immaculate Conception School in Revere by the Rev. James R. Porter. It was 1960. He was 12. But he still recalls running.

He ran, and then he hid. Under a desk in a second-floor classroom, frozen in terror as Porter called out for him. And then he ran again, out of the school and home.

Chris was victimized about 12 years ago. He remembers struggling as the Rev. John J. Geoghan groped him in the rectory at St. Julia's in Weston before he squirmed out of Geoghan's grasp. As Geoghan yelled after him, ''No one will ever believe you,'' Chris ran from the room. He ran from the rectory. He ran behind the church - and cowered there until his father came for him. Geoghan was right; Chris never said a word.

Now Tom and Chris have stopped running. Thomas R. Fulchino, the father, and Christopher T. Fulchino, his son, are victims of Massachusetts' two most notorious priest pedophiles - three decades apart. For their family, lightning struck twice.

Now, the Fulchino family has decided to speak out. Father and son - and Susan, wife to one victim and mother of another - liken themselves to other Geoghan victims: They represent the consequences of Cardinal Bernard F. Law's decision to knowingly send a pedophile priest to their parish.

For all of Tom Fulchino's success, and the family's affluent life in Weston, the consequences have been devastating. A year ago, Susan was hospitalized for depression for several months. Chris, who is now 25, has become a workaholic. Often, he said, he awakens from dreams about Geoghan. When that happens, no matter the hour, he gets up and takes a shower.

Tom, at Susan's prodding during a long interview last week, acknowledged that he has long been ''emotionally reserved'' because of his abuse at Porter's hands. But since Chris first told his parents four years ago what Geoghan did to him, Tom and Susan say Tom has become even more remote.

Father and son have much in common: Both have nightmares. Both still try to shake the sense of guilt and shame. Tom never told his parents; Chris said nothing until the day five years ago when Geoghan was publicly identified as a sex abuser.

''We were watching the TV news. I was sitting next to Mom,'' Chris recalled as his mother struggled to fight back tears. ''And there was Geoghan, being accused of abusing all these children. And my Mom said, `That bastard.' And I said, `Mom, I'm one of them, one of the victims.' She just looked at me. She didn't know what to say. So we just walked upstairs, and we told my dad.''

Over the past 40 years, Tom Fulchino said, he has conquered some of his own demons. Mostly, he said of that horrid moment in 1960, ''You block it. You just totally put it behind Door Number 6 in your mind.''

But for the last five years, Fulchino has found himself overwhelmed less by what happened to him than by the guilt he feels that a father who was wary of priests because of his own experience could have let the same thing happen to his son.

In agreeing to tell their story and be identified, the Fulchinos said they hope their story will comfort other victims. They want people to understand the emotional damage that befalls entire families when priests molest children. And they pray - Tom and Susan still pray, despite it all - that speaking out will help them too.

After learning in the last month how much Law knew about Geoghan before sending him to Weston, they decided to sue the cardinal and the bishops - the ''good old boys club,'' Susan called them - who facilitated Geoghan's movement from parish to parish.

''Geoghan is a sick man. And he was a sick man on the loose,'' Tom Fulchino said. ''It was up to Cardinal Law and the people to control that person. But they did nothing. They're just as responsible as Geoghan is.''

Roderick MacLeish Jr. of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, who is representing the family, called their experience ''a tragedy of enormous proportions.''

''Those in the Archdiocese of Boston who made the decision to continue the ministry of this monster, Father Geoghan, with full knowledge of the risks involved to innocent children, need to explain to the Fulchinos and the public what possibly could have been running through their minds,'' MacLeish said. ''These were intelligent men making incredibly misguided decisions. And families and children paid tremendous price for it.''

Donna M. Morrissey, the cardinal's spokeswoman, issued a statement last night saying the church had just learned from the Globe about what she called ''this latest tragedy.'' Morrissey pledged that the archdiocese would offer the family ''full pastoral and counseling support.''

''Our prayers go out to this family, as they must have endured profound suffering and trauma,'' she said.

It is barely a mile from the Fulchinos' Weston home to St. Julia's, where they attended Mass, where their five children went to Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes every Sunday.

But no one from the family sets foot in St. Julia's anymore - not since the day they learned of Chris's abuse.

When he is home from his job in Maine, Chris said, he takes back roads to avoid even driving past St. Julia's. There is no church he will enter, Chris said, because every church reminds him of Geoghan.

Even so, Chris's parents said they harbor no bitterness toward Catholicism or toward the vast majority of Catholic priests. ''I've always believed in the church. I believe in the Catholic faith,'' said Tom Fulchino, who is now 53. ''I had eight years of the nuns, and eight years of the Jesuits. You can't shake it.''

He is a ''double Eagle,'' a graduate of both Boston College High School and Boston College. When he was a boy, his was such a devout family that a local priest - a ''good priest,'' Fulchino hastens to add - was a constant visitor to his home and a fast friend to his father. He never told his parents about Porter. Had he gone to them, he said, they would not have believed something like that could have happened.

Those good priests remain in his thoughts. This scandal, Tom says, ''is not just hurting the victims - it's hurting these good priests that are out there that have dedicated their whole life to working and to helping people. The way Law has handled this situation has just destroyed what these guys have done. And they work hard. And I think they're victims too.''

The Fulchinos moved to Weston in 1983, wary from Tom's experience but determined that all five children would have the religious upbringing they had as children. The following year, Law dispatched Geoghan to the parish.

At the time, the Globe Spotlight Team reported last month, Law had just removed Geoghan from St. Brendan's Church in Dorchester for molesting children. And he knew Geoghan had been taken out of St. Andrew's in Jamaica Plain in 1980 after he admitted to abusing seven boys in one extended family. Back then, according to church records, Geoghan said the abuse was not ''serious.''

But St. Julia's parishioners knew none of this. Nor did they know why Geoghan was on sick leave in 1989 - for again molesting children. Even so, Law approved sending Geoghan back to St. Julia's.

Law ''let him back in there, back into St. Julia's,'' Tom Fulchino said as he pondered the likelihood yesterday that his son was abused after Geoghan's 1989 sick leave.

Chris Fulchino was 13, and in the seventh grade, when Geoghan ensnared him. To this day, he remains uncertain of the precise date. But he turned 13 a month after Geoghan's 1989 return from pedophilia treatment.

On Sundays, Geoghan made the rounds of CCD classes, asking questions, sometimes passing out quarters and candy for the right answers. That Sunday, Chris had the right answer.

But Geoghan, he said, was fresh out of quarters and candy.

Chris recalls, his voice trembling, that Geoghan said, ''If you come over to the [rectory] during your break, I'll have milk and cookies with you and we'll say `Our Father.' I was like, `Hey that's awesome!'''

In a dark room in the rectory, Geoghan was sitting in a lone red velvet chair, with two glasses of milk and chocolate chip cookies on a plastic platter. He hoisted his unsuspecting guest onto his lap, and they said the ''Our Father.'' That was when Geoghan molested him.

Father and son remember the brute force of their attackers. ''I thought I was going to die. I couldn't breathe,'' Tom Fulchino says of his struggle against Porter so long ago. From Chris, there is nearly an echo: ''He squeezed me as tight as he could. I felt like I couldn't breathe, and I was gagging.''

''The bottom fell out.'' That's what Tom Fulchino said happened to the family after Chris told them about Geoghan.

''Once it came out about Christopher, there was an overwhelming guilt,'' said Susan Fulchino. ''And then I suffered a breakdown.''

During an emotionally intense two-hour interview last week, Susan comforted both men, sometimes through tears. She encouraged them to speak up and resolved to reach out to other mothers whose families are victims.

Despite it all, she has kept her faith. ''I feel badly that my kids may not walk back into the church again. That really bothers me,'' she said, ''because we believe in God.

''You need to believe in something.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 2/3/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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