by the investigative staff of the Boston Globe
Chapter 1 | Father Geoghan | Page 1
He was a small, wiry man with a disarming smile that, from a distance, gave him the gentle bearing of a kindly uncle or a friendly neighborhood shopkeeper. It was hard to detect the darkness behind John Geoghan’s bright eyes. At first glance, almost no one did.
Frank Leary certainly didn’t see it. The fifth of six children being raised by a single mother on welfare, Leary was thirteen years old and had yet to learn his older brothers’ tricks for ditching Mass on Sunday mornings when he first encountered Geoghan in the late spring of 1974. The priest’s smiling face was already a fixture at the back of St. Andrew’s Church in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. After Mass, the parish priest would hug the mothers, shake hands with the fathers, and deliver soft pats to the backs of the children.
"He always had a big grin—it was as wide as his face," Leary recalled. "My mother liked him. He was very popular. He was like a little imp." Leary said hello to the priest, received his friendly tap across the shoulder blades, and didn’t focus on Geoghan again until the summer.
The rectory groundskeeper was Leary’s friend , and Leary helped out a couple times a week, raking freshly mowed grass or gathering hedge clippings in a wheelbarrow. It was taxing work under an August sun, and one afternoon Geoghan bounded down the short steps of the rectory, offering a tall, cool glass of lemonade. Leary thanked the priest but demurred. He didn’t like lemonade. But the priest insisted, and sweetened the offer. He had a wonderful stamp collection that the boy might enjoy. Soon the priest and the boy were upstairs in Geoghan’s room at the rectory.
Leary sat in a large leather chair in the middle of the room, and the priest handed him an oversize book that contained the stamp collection. The priest went to the back of the room, keeping up a constant, reassuring patter. The collection did not hold the boy’s interest, but Geoghan pressed the matter. "He said, ‘Here, I’ll show you a few things.’ And he had me get up and he sat down and I sat on his lap," said Leary. The priest placed his hand on Leary’s knee and started turning pages that were a blur to the boy. Geoghan told him that his mother had suggested the visit. But still, Geoghan said, they should keep it a secret. All the while the priest’s hand climbed farther up Leary’s leg, until it reached under his cotton shorts and beneath his underwear.
"He was touching me, fondling me. I’m frozen. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. He was talking constantly. He said, ‘Shut the book. Close your eyes. We’ll say the Hail Mary.’ And that’s what I did." But before the prayer was finished, the boy darted from the room, hurried down the stairs, and found himself shaking behind the church.
Within a week or so, it happened again. Leary was sweeping concrete next to the church when Geoghan walked up, put his arm around the thirteen-year-old, and told him how special he was. The priest then ushered Leary back into the rectory, where Leary remembered seeing a scowling nun standing at the foot of the stairs.
Geoghan swept past the nun and directed Leary to the same chair in which the first attack had occurred. The shades were drawn against the summertime brightness. At first, the priest stood behind him, placing his hands on Leary’s shoulders. He asked the boy to begin reciting the most familiar prayers of the Catholic faith: the Our Father and the Hail Mary. "I’m praying and I’ve got my eyes closed. And he moves over to the chair and pulls my pants down one leg. And I couldn’t move. I was frozen. He had his shoulder on my chest at this point. He was praying too. And I was saying prayers, following him. I’m shaking. I felt very, very strange. I couldn’t do anything."
Geoghan moved down the young boy’s body and began to perform oral sex on him. "I was trying to hold back the tears and keep saying my prayers and keep my eyes closed. I didn’t see him do that. I remember being pushed back in my chair."
The assault did not last long. Perhaps only a minute, Leary estimated, before it was interrupted by a sudden commotion. "Geoghan stood straight up. The door flew open. And a priest with longish white hair started yelling at him. ‘Jack, we told you not to do this up here! What the hell are you doing! Are you nuts?’ He was yelling and screaming, and I just remember floating out of that chair."
Leary fled to a tree-shaded spot behind the school and tried to regain his composure. He sat for a while in a local cemetery, and when he finally went home, he went directly to his room. He didn’t tell anyone about the assault for many years.
Geoghan had been a Catholic priest for a dozen years when Leary says Geoghan sexually assaulted him. As he moved through parishes in and around Boston—from the edges of the city to the tony suburbs beyond—he was known as "Father Jack" to the people in the pews. He baptized their babies. He celebrated their weddings. He prayed over their dead, sprinkling the caskets with holy water. On Saturday afternoons, he sat in the dark and, from behind a screen, listened to their sins and meted out their penance. On Sunday mornings, he delivered the word of God to them.
For faithful Catholic mothers, especially those struggling to raise a large family by themselves, Geoghan seemed a godsend. He was there on their doorsteps with an offer to help. He’d take their sons out for ice cream. He’d read to them at bedtime. He would pray with them beside their beds. He would tuck them in for the night.
And then, in the near darkness, their parish priest would fondle them in their nightclothes, pressing a finger to his lips and swearing them to secrecy.