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Ex-Priest Guilty of Fondling Boy in '91

January 19, 2002|JOSH GETLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — In a case that shed harsh light on how the Roman Catholic Church deals with pedophilia in the clergy, a Cambridge, Mass., jury on Friday convicted a defrocked priest of fondling a boy 10 years ago.

John Geoghan, 66, could face up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced next week. He also faces two other criminal cases involving similar allegations and 84 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual abuse of children over the last 30 years.

As he had for the entire trial, Geoghan sat impassively as the verdict was read. He did not testify in his defense, and his attorney, Geoffrey Packard, did not call witnesses. Geoghan, who pleaded not guilty, said he was merely helping the boy out of a swimming pool when the incident occurred, according to Packard.

More than 130 people have claimed that Geoghan either raped or fondled them during the three decades he worked in several Boston-area parishes. Additionally, 118 people have sued Bernard Cardinal Law, the archbishop of Boston, for failing to discipline or remove Geoghan from the clergy, even after numerous allegations about inappropriate behavior had surfaced.

Geoghan finally was ejected from the priesthood in 1995, but not before Law had employed what is called the "geographic cure," transferring Geoghan from one parish to another as allegations surfaced against him. Earlier, Law offered a public apology, asking for prayers "for those who bear the pain of these acts" and also for himself, acknowledging that he has been struggling with how to confront the issue as a leader of the church.

Law pledged that the archdiocese of Boston would have "zero tolerance" for sexual abuse by priests. The archdiocese already has paid $10 million to settle about 50 such cases, and Law conceded last week that his handling of Geoghan's case was "in retrospect, tragically incorrect."

During Geoghan's trial, the victim, now a 20-year-old college student, testified that the priest had fondled him at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club in 1991 and that "it was kind of like bells went off. I got really nervous. I got away as fast as possible." The victim's mother also testified about the incident. Their identities were withheld by the court.

The case received widespread publicity, and Superior Court Judge Sandra L. Hamilton went to great lengths to ensure a fair jury. One man who was rejected as a juror said the case "is shattering my faith in the priesthood."

Packard argued that the plaintiff's case was driven by a desire to make money, noting that he did not come forward with his allegation until eight years after the incident. Packard also noted that the victim's attorney filed a civil lawsuit soon after the victim went public with the story.

The two other criminal cases Geoghan faces involve allegations of child rape and child molestation. His next trial is scheduled for Feb. 20.

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