Church in Crisis: John Geoghan’s Death
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RAY SUAREZ: Convicted pedophile and former priest John Geoghan was serving a nine- to ten-year sentence at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Facility in Shirley, Massachusetts. He was under protective custody when fellow inmate joseph Druce strangled and beat him Saturday. Worcester County District Attorney John Conte gave details of how Druce carried out the crime.
JOHN CONTE, District Attorney, Worcester County: He then stuffed a half of a book into the upper track of the cell door, so that it could not be opened electronically. And in the lower track, he placed a nail clipper and a toothbrush. The book he had had in his pocket-and he had been planning this for a while-and he pre-cut the book just to fit the size of that track.
RAY SUAREZ: Conte said Massachusetts state officials were investigating the incident. He said Druce, who was already serving a life sentence without parole for killing a gay man 15 years ago, will be charged with murder.
JOHN CONTE: According to what we know now, Mr. Druce seems to be the single defendant here. He has a longstanding phobia, it appears, towards homosexuals of any kind.
RAY SUAREZ: The 68-year-old Geoghan was a central figure in the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal. In civil lawsuits, nearly 150 people have claimed Geoghan molested them over three decades as a priest in Boston-area parishes. He was jailed after a January 2002 conviction for sexually abusing a ten-year-old boy. Several of Geoghan’s victims reacted to his death this weekend.
JOHN KING: I don’t feel any joy in this. I feel sadness.
MICHAEL LINSCIOTT: He got off easy. It is the rest of us here that have to deal with it, dealing with life on a daily basis– the pain, sense of lost trust, betrayal, sense of lost innocence, a sense of a part of your life that you can never get back.
RAY SUAREZ: Cardinal Bernard Law and the archdiocese of Boston were accused of ignoring Geoghan’s and other priests’ abuse, among them former Boston priest Paul Shanley, who awaits trial, charged with ten counts of child rape. Cardinal Law resigned in December. He was the highest-ranking cleric to resign as a result of the sexual abuse scandal. He’s since been replaced by Archbishop Sean Patrick O’Malley. Since the crisis erupted more than 18 months ago, the Catholic Church scandal has grown.
An estimated 1,200 priests have faced allegations. More than 400 resigned or were removed from the ministry for sexual abuse, along with four U.S. bishops. Courts across the country have ordered legal settlements of millions of dollars for some victims. The Boston archdiocese is reportedly negotiating a settlement for more than 500 outstanding lawsuits involving abusive priests.
RAY SUAREZ: Two perspectives now on the latest developments in Boston: They come from Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for many of the victims who said they were abused by John Geoghan. And Stephen Pope is the chairman of the Theology Department at Boston College. Professor Pope, where do things stand in the long running confrontation between those who say they were abused by archdiocese priests and the Boston archdiocese?
STEPHEN POPE: Well, Rray, there’s a process involved right now, involving archbishop of Boston, Shaup O’Malley, and the attorneys for the victims in trying to reach a settlement. Archbishop O’Malley has taken very clear steps to show that he wants to address the needs of the victims first and foremost. And I don’t think the death of John Geoghan is going to have an impact on that process, at least I certainly hope it doesn’t.
RAY SUAREZ: Mitchell Garabedian, had John Geoghan still been alive today, what would he have faced in the next months and years in court?
MITCHELL GARABEDIAN: He would have faced at least two, the potential of two criminal trials. With those criminal trials, evidence would have been presented describing his terrible acts, and as a result the public would have been even more informed as to his heinous acts and the problem with pedophilia within the Catholic Church.
RAY SUAREZ: What are some of your clients telling you over the weekend and today about their reactions to this prison murder?
MITCHELL GARABEDIAN: There’s a whole spectrum of emotions. One woman called me and she was crying profusely. She was very sad, she felt as show she was part of the reason that John J. Geoghan was murdered, allegedly murdered. She felt as though she if she didn’t report his abuse in the 90s, that she would not have been a part of this.
Other individuals had a momentary happiness, briefly, maybe 30 second, then they realized it wasn’t happiness at all, and that maybe he’s going to meet his maker and judgment day for John Geoghan has come. Most of the plaintiffs felt as though he should have served out his time, been given an opportunity to reflect, had the criminal trials take place, had the civil trials take place, and as a result maybe the public would have been more aware of his terrible acts.
RAY SUAREZ: Does the loss of John Geoghan make prosecuting or trying the civil cases that remain, and some of the plaintiffs are your clients, does it make your work any harder as you head to court?
MITCHELL GARABEDIAN: No, it doesn’t, not at all. I’ve been handling the John Geoghan cases since 1994. Since 1994 I’ve had 147 claimants come to me. I’ve collected an enormous amount of information, relevant data that can be used as evidence in court against the supervisors of John Geoghan, and I will proceed in court if necessary, and I feel as though I can prove through a preponderance of the evidence the negligence of the supervisors. I don’t believe his death will prevent me from continuing with the cases effectively.
RAY SUAREZ: Professor Pope, was Geoghan unwittingly perhaps really one of the main symbols of this whole scandal and really one of the dark stars of the whole story?
STEPHEN POPE: Well, there’s no doubt that John Geoghan was the symbol of the pedophile priest. And his case that broke in January of 2002 led to extensive revelations about the inability of the church to stop him from behaving that way and to get him out of ministry. And it became the worst case scenario. And I think his murder in prison just shows the way in which, way in which a series of evil acts can lead to further evil. And I think we all hope that right now the governor has taken the right step in calling for an independent investigation for the reasons why someone would be murdered when they’re under protective custody.
RAY SUAREZ: The archdiocese of Boston, Professor, was forced to release many of its internal records. Did that end up fleshing out the picture that we had of this man and his life as a priest?
STEPHEN POPE: Well, there’s no doubt that the extensive revelations really since January of 2002, so a year and a half, have led to an increased perception of the details of sexual abuse of minors by priests and to the inability and unwillingness of the bishops to take full measures to correct that. The attorney general released a report last month that was very damaging regarding priest sexual abuse.
At the same time, I doubt that Mr. Druce spent a lot of time reading those documents. It seems to me that his behavior was motivated by hate and that he was put in the position where his anger and hatred and his own pathology could be exercised against this man who at the time, whatever his previous behavior was, was very vulnerable to this kind of crime.
RAY SUAREZ: Mitchell Garabedian, there are offers on the table now for the remaining plaintiffs. Describe for me how the negotiations are proceeding. Are there regular meetings between lawyers for the various parties, are there regular consultations about the size of the offer and how many people are willing to sign on?
MITCHELL GARABEDIAN: Respectfully, Ray, I cannot comment at this point in time. It’s a very complex matter involving more than 500 victims, involving more than 35 lawyers. Commenting at this time would not be appropriate.
RAY SUAREZ: But a large number of those remaining plaintiffs have to sign on in order for the offer to stand, is that correct?
MITCHELL GARABEDIAN: Well, the archdiocese made public, at least I think the archdiocese made public an offer in which 95 percent of the victims would have to sign on for the settlement to be effective.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit about what the death of Mr. Geoghan brings now in convergence with these other factors. The offer on the table, a new leadership at the Boston archdiocese, and the death of Geoghan. Does the convergence of these circumstances in your view move the diocese at least closer toward closing the books on this chapter in its history?
MITCHELL GARABEDIAN: Well, certainly the death of John Geoghan is a tragic chapter in a tragic book. Whether it’s the last chapter we don’t know. The actions of Archbishop O’Malley since he’s been installed have been commendable. He has, the archdiocese is finally giving, paying for the cost of therapy for many victims without the victims having to go through very much red tape. Since he’s been installed an offer has been made that’s been public to the victims so there’s the potential here of resolving these matters.
But you have to remember, I have at least 50 years of abuse, evidence of 50 years of abuse in my cases, approximately 50 years. So this matter came to a head I’d say about a year and a half ago. One would expect that 50 years of abuse is going to cause more than a year and a half’s controversy. This could go on for quite a while.
RAY SUAREZ: And Professor Pope, let me hear you on that same question. Is the archdiocese moving toward a gradual wrapping up of this terrible time in hits history?
STEPHEN POPE: Well, I don’t have any privileged perspective on the inner workings. I’m an ethicist at Boston College. But I think as an ordinary Catholic in Boston, I can say there are many positive signs that the archdiocese wants to move to true justice, to true compensation, that’s fair to all the victims. And that it’s been very encouraging to see the archbishop take such a public stand on behalf of the concern he has for the victims. I don’t think the murder of John Geoghan really is going to have any positive impact on that whatsoever and I think it’s a mistake to try to find one there.
It certainly does not help the victims feel better. It does not bring people back to Church, it doesn’t restore the credibility of the priesthood. And I don’t think it gets the people of Boston any sense of hope. If anything, I think it adds to a discredibility that we feel about public institutions, and I think it’s a tragic event all around.
RAY SUAREZ: Is the Church playing hard ball with the remaining plaintiffs at this point, professor?
STEPHEN POPE: Well, from my perspective, I don’t think the Church is trying to play hard ball. I think it merely understands that there’s been terrible damage done to innocent people, and that it needs to do everything possible to resolve the issue, to bring justice to the victims, and then to bring healing to the whole archdiocese of Boston.
RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you both.