by the investigative staff of the Boston Globe
Chapter 1 | Father Geoghan | Page 2
"He looked like a little altar boy," said Maryetta Dussourd, who eagerly and proudly allowed Geoghan access to the small apartment where she lived with her daughter, three sons, and four of their cousins in Jamaica Plain. Geoghan was a calculating predator whose deceptive charm opened many doors.
As he sits today in oversized prison-issued clothing, John J. Geoghan is perhaps the nation’s most conspicuous example of a sexually abusive member of the clergy, not just because of the stunning number of his victims—nearly two hundred have come forward so far—but because of the delicate and deceptive way the Church handled his sins. For more than two decades, even as two successive cardinals and dozens of Church officials in the Boston archdiocese learned that Geoghan could not control his compulsion to attack children, Geoghan found extraordinary solace in the Church’s culture of secrecy.
"Yours has been an effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness. On behalf of those you have served well, and in my own name, I would like to thank you," Cardinal Bernard F. Law wrote to Geoghan in 1996, long after the priest’s assaults had been detected. "I understand yours is a painful situation. The passion we share can indeed seem unbearable and unrelenting. We are our best selves when we respond in honesty and trust. God bless you, Jack."
Geoghan was one among many. And while the breadth of his assaults was vast, they were perhaps not as horrific as those committed by fellow priests who in some cases violently raped their young prey and then shooed them away as they resumed their priestly ministry. If it was a secret to the daily communicants and the congregations that filled the churches on Sunday mornings, it was common knowledge among Church leaders, who heard the anguished pleas from the mothers and fathers of children abused by priests. They promised to address the problem. They vowed they would not let it happen again. And then they did.
When Maryetta Dussourd discovered that Geoghan was molesting her boys—one of them just four years old—she found no solace from her friends or her church. Fellow parishioners shunned her. They accused her of provoking scandal. Church officials implored her to keep quiet. It was for the sake of the children, they said. Don’t sue, they warned her. They told her that no one would believe her.
"Everything you have taught your child about God and safety and trust—it is destroyed," said Dussourd, whose claims against the Church were settled in a 1997 confidential agreement—like scores of others in which the victims received money and the Church obtained their silence.
Until January 2002, when this scandal erupted, priests were the men whose Roman collars conferred upon them the reflexive trust of parents who considered it an honor to have them in their homes. That was certainly how it had been with Geoghan. On warm summer days when he arrived without notice and offered to take their little boys out for ice cream cones, they swelled with pride and wished the priest well on his outing with their kids. When he showed up on their doorstep at night offering bedtime stories, they were certain that God had smiled on their children.
John J. Geoghan’s priestly career nearly ended just as it was beginning.
When Monsignor John J. Murray, the rector of Cardinal O’Connell Seminary in Jamaica Plain, reviewed Geoghan’s performance in the summer of 1954, he was not impressed. His faculty was concerned about Geoghan. They considered the nineteen-year-old seminarian decidedly immature, a characteristic not entirely evident in a casual setting. Further, they found Geoghan "feminine in his manner of speech and approach."
"Scholastically he is a problem," Murray concluded in a letter to a colleague. "To be sure he received passing grades in most subjects, but I still have serious doubts about his ability to do satisfactory work in future studies." As he considered whether to recommend Geoghan to superiors at St. John’s Seminary in nearby Brighton, the next academic rung in a ladder that would lead to Geoghan’s ordination, Murray opted to look on the bright side. "In his favor are the following good qualities: a very fervent spiritual life, industry, determination to succeed, happy disposition, obedience, docility, interest in and regard for others, and respected by his contemporaries. Perhaps maturity will bring to this young man the qualities he needs in order to be successful in his quest for the priesthood."
Perhaps. But the troubled Geoghan, in a pattern that would repeat itself for more than thirty years, would need help from on high. This time he found it from a monsignor he could call his own: his uncle.
Geoghan’s father, whom he recalled as a kind and generous man, died when he was just five years old. And although he would later remember his namesake’s funeral as spiritually uplifting, the death of his father struck the young boy hard: he wet his bed for two years as he struggled with the loss. Geoghan considered his mother a saintly woman who provided for him and his older sister a household of prayer and normalcy. It was, he said, a happy childhood. And in his mother’s brother, Monsignor Mark H. Keohane, he found a father figure, role model, and protector. "The perfect substitute father," Geoghan said of his uncle, who would dress his young nephew in the vestments of a priest for festive neighborhood parades at the family’s summer home in Scituate, a picture-postcard seaside community twenty-six miles south of Boston and locally known as the Irish Riviera. It was a summer haunt for wealthy and influential Irish-Americans, among them legendary former Boston Mayor James Michael Curley.
Keohane was a formidable figure. Autocratic, old-school, domineering, and—some would say—mean. But Geoghan saw only his "great work and sacrifices." And when Geoghan again ran into trouble in the seminary, Keohane was there to run interference for his nephew.