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Pedophile Ex-Priest Strangled in Prison

John J. Geoghan's trial brought to light the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal. A fellow inmate will be charged with murder.

August 24, 2003|Elizabeth Mehren and Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writers

BOSTON — Former priest John J. Geoghan, the convicted child abuser whose prosecution launched a worldwide pedophilia scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, was killed in prison Saturday by a fellow inmate.

Geoghan, 67, was assaulted around noon at a prison in Shirley, about 30 miles outside Boston. He died shortly after being rushed to nearby Leominster Hospital, according to Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction.

Worcester County Dist. Atty. John J. Conte announced late Saturday that Joseph L. Druce will be charged with murdering Geoghan. Conte said Geoghan was strangled.

Druce, 37, is serving a life sentence for murder at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, a medium-security facility where Geoghan also was held.

Geoghan, implicated in dozens of cases, was convicted on a single count of fondling a 10-year-old boy at a community swimming pool in 1991 and had been sentenced in early 2002 to nine years in prison.

Information that came out as a result of Geoghan's trial triggered a massive crisis in the church that led to the resignation or removal of more than 325 priests and four bishops around the country.

The reverberations reached all the way to the Vatican, prompting Pope John Paul II to schedule an emergency summit. Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law resigned in disgrace in December because of his involvement in the long-running cover-up of the sexual abuse scandal.

New policies designed to prevent clerical sexual abuse have since been adopted across the country.

Many victims broke lifetimes of silence to reveal their abuse at the hands of priests. On Saturday, a number of those who say they were victimized said they took no comfort in Geoghan's death.

Barbara Blaine, founder and president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said she was shocked to learn of the former priest's death.

"Obviously, I think that Father Geoghan deserved the sentence that he received. He caused so much pain and devastation for hundreds of people," she said in Chicago. "But he was not given a death sentence. At this point, my heart goes out to his family."

Father Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, called Geoghan's death tragic. He said the church was offering prayers "for the repose of John's soul, and extends its prayers in consolation to his beloved sister, Kathy, at this time of personal loss."

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for scores of alleged Geoghan victims in Boston, said that Geoghan's death only added to the "dark cloud of sadness hanging over this case."

At least 130 men and women have come forward to claim that Geoghan molested them over a period of more than 30 years.

Documents obtained by the Boston Globe shortly before Geoghan's trial revealed that top officials of the Boston Archdiocese were aware for decades of child abuse accusations against Geoghan. Rather than remove him from duties involving contact with children, church leaders transferred Geoghan from parish to parish.

As the scandal unfolded, the thousands of pages of previously confidential archdiocese records revealed that church leaders had routinely reassigned priests accused of molesting children.

A report issued last month by the state attorney general estimated that more than 1,000 children were abused in the Boston Archdiocese over six decades. The attorney general said the archdiocese's own records revealed that 250 priests and church workers had been accused of molesting children.

Until his resignation, Law steadfastly insisted that he was unaware of the scope of the pedophilia scandal in his archdiocese.

As the crisis mushroomed, church officials around the country admitted to making settlements with clerical abuse victims that totaled hundreds of millions of dollars.

In Boston alone, 86 Geoghan victims last year accepted a $10-million settlement. Last week, church officials here added $10 million to a $55-million offer extended to 542 other sexual abuse victims.

As the financial implications of the crisis compounded -- and as the credibility of the church suffered fiercely -- U.S. cardinals were summoned in April 2002 to an emergency meeting at the Vatican.

In calling the extraordinary meeting with the cardinals, John Paul declared there was no place in the priesthood for child molesters. He said the sexual abuse of minors was not only "an appalling sin" but a civil crime -- signaling the pope's explicit recognition of the role of criminal prosecutors.

Two months later, the nation's Catholic bishops convened in Dallas under intense media scrutiny and approved a landmark national policy for the protection of children and youth. It called for "zero tolerance" for any priest or deacon found to have abused a child. Several months later, after making some changes to protect the legal rights of the accused, the Vatican gave the policy the force of church law in the U.S., mandating that every diocesan bishop enforce and abide by its provisions.

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