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Boston cardinal offers apology to sex abuse victims


Boston Cardinal Bernard Law offered a public apology “with heartfelt sorrow” Jan. 9 to people abused by priests as children, and particularly those abused by John L. Geoghan, a former Boston-area priest.

“These days are particularly painful for the victims of John Geoghan. My apology to them and their families, and particularly to those who were abused in assignments which I made, comes from a grieving heart. I am indeed profoundly sorry,” Law said.

Geoghan, 66, goes to trial Jan. 14 for sexual molestation of a minor in the first of two criminal proceedings against him. Further, it has been alleged that he fondled, raped or otherwise abused over 130 children during his three decades of ministry in the archdiocese.

Along with the apology, Law also announced a new diocesan policy that requires all clergy and church volunteers to report allegations of child abuse, even though Massachusetts law does not currently require them to do so. Clergy will not, however, be expected to inform anyone about sexual abuse when they learn of it through the sacrament of penance.

Law said he is putting a “zero-tolerance” policy in place regarding sexual abuse of minors by priests. No active priest in the archdiocese now, as far as he knows, “is guilty of sexually abusing a minor,” he said.

Law’s apology comes two days after The Boston Globe began a series of stories reporting on Geoghan’s history of pedophilia during his time as an archdiocesan priest at five of the six parishes he served, beginning in 1962 and reaching into the ’90s.

In 1984 when Law first came to office, Geoghan began a series of abuses that might have been avoided had the archdiocese heeded evidence of Geoghan’s pattern of child sexual abuse. Despite extensive knowledge, however, church officials enabled Geoghan to have access to children until 1992.

The Globe chronicles a career-long pattern of Geoghan seeking access to children, facing accusations, receiving psychiatric treatment and then returning to work, supposedly cured. The Globe reports that Geoghan repeatedly employed a strategy of befriending lower-middle class women with children, gaining the trust of the family before sexually abusing the children, and then telling the children to keep the abuse secret. In all but a few of the abuse cases, Geoghan is alleged to have abused boys, whose ages ranged from 4 to 12.

Along with the criminal proceedings against Geoghan, 84 civil lawsuits are still pending. Geoghan is not contesting the charges in these cases.

The archdiocese has already settled some 50 lawsuits against Geoghan for more than $10 million. In those cases, confidential church records have remained sealed by the court at the request of the archdiocese. The Boston Globe, however, has successfully petitioned to have church records in the pending 84 cases made public. The records are expected to contain bishops’ depositions about supervising Geoghan, correspondence and personnel files. They are to be released Jan. 26.

Law himself has been named a defendant in as many as 25 of the lawsuits. Five other bishops have also been named. The suits allege the bishops and archbishop were negligent because they knew about Geoghan’s pedophilia but nevertheless allowed him to continue in ministry.

The five other bishops named have all been transferred from the Boston archdiocese in recent years to lead other dioceses. They are: New Orleans Archbishop Alfred. C. Hughes; Manchester, N.H., Bishop John B. McCormack; Rockville Centre, N.Y., Bishop William F. Murphy; Green Bay, Wis., Bishop Robert J. Banks; and Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The archdiocese’s defense has been that Law made Geoghan’s appointments “in good faith and in reliance on psychiatric and medical opinions that such assignments were safe and reasonable.” In December 1984, about a month after Law transferred Geoghan to St. Julia’s Parish in Weston, Mass., two doctors cleared Geoghan, one stating that Geoghan was “fully recovered.” Law has also noted that much less was known about pedophilia in 1984 than is known now.

Yet the Globe uncovered a letter to Law dated Dec. 7, 1984, from one of his own bishops, John M. D’Arcy, that gives weight to the argument that Geoghan should not have continued with full-time parish duties. Seeking to persuade Law to remove Geoghan from St. Julia’s, D’Arcy warned Law that “Fr. Geoghan has a history of homosexual involvement with young boys,” and he advised that Geoghan receive further counseling and weekend work only. Law did not act on D’Arcy’s advice.

At St. Julia’s, where he would remain for several years, Geoghan was put in charge of altar boys and other youth groups. He was accused of multiple abusive acts during his years there, received further psychiatric evaluation and treatment, was recommended again for reinstatement, and as late as 1991 was accused of child sex abuse.

In 1998, at the recommendation of Law, Geoghan was defrocked by the pope.

Religion News Service contributed to this report.

National Catholic Reporter, January 18, 2002