Church kept quiet in pedophile case, files show

Boston-area priest, reassigned many times, underwent treatment

January 27, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON -- The Roman Catholic archdiocese here seemed more preoccupied with avoiding a scandal involving a pedophile priest than making sure the priest had no further contact with children, documents released Thursday suggest.

The documents -- depositions, letters and memorandums from 84 civil lawsuits against the priest and the archdiocese -- reveal in detail that the church knew of the priest's pedophilia but moved him from one parish to another for 30 years.

The revelations prompted Boston's cardinal, Bernard F. Law, to apologize for the second time this month for the archdiocese's handling of the priest, John J. Geoghan, 66, who was convicted last week of molesting a boy in a youth club pool and faces two more criminal trials on similar charges.

More than 130 people in half a dozen parishes here said that Geoghan, who was defrocked in 1998, molested them as children, from 1962 to 1995. The church has settled about 50 lawsuits for a total of more than $10 million.

"I made a mistake in assigning John Geoghan," Law said. "I regret that assignment, and I have attempted to learn from that mistake."

In a departure from long-standing church policy, the cardinal also announced that he would require clergymen and officials of the archdiocese to report to the authorities past accusations of sexual abuse by priests.

"We will be going to public authorities with the names of all priests that we are aware of that have abused minors," Law said. He also said he was convening a panel of medical experts to study ways to prevent child abuse and deal with victims.

The 10,000 pages of new documents include depositions by bishops who were aware of Geoghan's problem, notes from psychiatrists who evaluated him, letters from parishioners complaining of church inaction and letters from the two cardinals in Geoghan's tenure, the late Cardinal Humberto Medeiros and Law.

The Boston Archdiocese has long tried to keep the documents sealed, and they became public only after The Boston Globe filed a request to see them, and a judge ordered the records opened last year. The Globe published excerpts and an analysis of the records Thursday.

In one deposition, Bishop Thomas V. Daily, now leader of the Brooklyn Diocese, was asked whether it was archdiocesan policy "to avoid scandal where possible."

The bishop replied, "Yes."

"And were these events types of events that would cause scandal for the church?" Daily was asked.

"Yes," he replied.

In a 1982 letter, Margaret Gallant, a relative of seven boys molested by Geoghan, wrote to Medeiros complaining that Daily had "suggested that we keep silent." Her relatives, Gallant wrote, "never as much as received an apology from the church, much less any offer for counseling for the boys."

In reply, Medeiros wrote, "While I am and must be very sensitive to a very delicate situation and one that has caused great scandal, I must at the same time invoke the mercy of God and share in that mercy in the knowledge that God forgives sins and that sinners indeed can be forgiven."

In the documents, church officials, including Law, often treated Geoghan with compassion, as a sinner who had repented and recovered.

"It is most heartening to know that things have gone well for you and that you are ready to resume your efforts with a renewed zeal," Law wrote to Geoghan in 1989, when the cardinal allowed the priest to return to St. Julia Parish in suburban Weston after treatment Geoghan received when more parishioners complained.

Some parishioners and a few priests have called on Law to resign. But Thursday, the cardinal, who is considered close to the pope and is one of the country's most influential Roman Catholic leaders, dismissed that possibility.

"The solution to this problem as I see it does not include my resignation as archbishop," Law said. "You don't walk away when the problem is difficult."

Two weeks ago, in his first apology, the cardinal announced a policy of zero tolerance of future sexual abuse of children by priests and required clergymen to report evidence of such abuse to the state authorities.

This followed a Vatican order requiring all archdioceses to report accusations of pedophilia to the Vatican.

But last week, the Senate in this heavily Roman Catholic state voted to go beyond Law's actions, passing an amendment that would require reporting evidence of past sexual abuse.

"In a state like Massachusetts, in a city like Boston, I think that's a considerable turnaround," said Thomas H. O'Connor, university historian at Boston College. In response, the cardinal revised archdiocese policy to require reporting past abuse as well.

In his first apology, Law said he relied on psychiatric evaluations that suggested Geoghan could be safely reassigned to parishes. The newly disclosed documents contain a number of positive evaluations of Geoghan.

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