The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Memos offer split view of priest

Medical records contrast on risk

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 1/24/2002

It's as if there were two John Geoghans: One, an emotionally stable priest victimized by "a rather unfortunate traumatic experience," yet fully capable of fulfilling his priestly duties. The other, a dangerous child molester with an "impulsive nature" whose continued presence among parishioners would yield "an explosion."

These contrasting portraits of Geoghan emerge from medical rec ords that were filed with 84 civil lawsuits against the former priest and top officials in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, including Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

The records include positive written medical evaluations and friendly notes from Geoghan's superiors, as well as contrasting evidence of dire warnings about Geoghan and his sexual compulsion about children.

For instance, in a hand-written memo to himself, Bishop Robert J. Banks, then the administrator of the archdiocese, wrote: "You better clip his wings before there is an explosion. . . . You can't afford to have him in a parish."

The comments were written under the heading "Dr. Brennan," apparently alluding to Dr. John H. Brennan, a psychiatrist who had treated Geoghan for a decade. The comments appear to be notes taken during a conversation between Banks and the doctor in April 1989, shortly before Geoghan was removed from his assignment at St. Julia Parish in Weston.

But the only corresponding written evaluation from Brennan was made 18 months later, in December 1990, after Banks and Law had permitted Geoghan to return to St. Julia Parish.

"I have known Father Geoghan since February 1980," Brennan wrote. "There is no psychiatric contraindication to Fr. Geoghan's pastoral work at this time."

In sworn testimony in a deposition taken last year, Brennan said he remembered a 1989 telephone call in which he warned an unnamed church official that Geoghan was a pedophile and should not be allowed to work with children. But he said he could not recall ever putting that warning in writing.

The church's aversion to negative written evaluations of Geoghan -- and its preference for positive written assessments to coincide with new assignments -- is underscored by a series of letters between Banks and officials at the Institue of Living, a Hartford, Conn., facility that treated Geoghan for pedophilia in 1989.

In a three-page evaluation written in November of that year, Drs. Robert F. Swords and Vincent J. Stephens said that psychological testing of Geoghan "showed an immature and impulsive nature" and an individual who "could be a high risk-taker."

Their diagnosis was "atypical pedophilia, in remission" and "mixed personality disorder with obsessive-compulsive, histrionic, and narcissistic features."

But Banks wrote back that he was "disappointed and disturbed by the report," and complained that he had been "assured that it would be all right to reassign Father Geoghan to pastoral ministry and that he would not present a risk for the parishioners whom he would serve."

Indeed, Banks noted that by this time he had already permitted Geoghan to return to St. Julia Parish and had asked for an additional letter that "would express the assurance I was given orally about Father Geoghan's reassignment."

Two weeks later, Swords complied with the request.

"We judge Father Geoghan to be clinically quite safe to resume his pastoral ministry after observation, evaluation, and treatment here for three months," Swords wrote. "The probability that he would sexually act out again is quite low."

In a follow-up letter in December 1990, Swords again wrote to Banks, saying that Geoghan was "fit for pastoral work in general including children," with the proviso that he be monitored by the archdiocese and Brennan.

Brennan -- who was working at a Catholic institution, St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Brighton, when he began treating Geoghan, said in his deposition that he had no expertise in handling cases of pedophilia and could recall treating no other patient for the illness.

The pattern of allegations of sexual abuse by Geoghan, followed by positive written medical evaluations and cheerful notes by Geoghan's superiors, stretches back through the 1980s.

In an October 1984 letter to a church official, Dr. Robert W. Mullins described Geoghan as "a longtime friend and patient" who had been removed from his parish due to "a rather unfortunate traumatic experience."

Mullins also recommended that Geoghan be allowed to return to "full pastoral activities without any need for specific restriction."

A fellow Catholic and West Roxbury neighbor, Mullins was writing to the Rev. Thomas F. Oates, then clergy personnal director for the archdiocese, after Geoghan had been removed from an assignment at St. Brendan Parish in Dorchester because of new allegations of child sexual abuse.

But church officials either did not know or did not care that Mullins was a family doctor with no expertise in treating pedophilia, in counseling, or in psychology.

In a cheerful November 1984 reply, Oates thanked Mullins for his "kind assistance" in treating Geoghan and hinted about his new assignment to St. Julia Parish.

"You are perhaps already aware that he will soon be enjoying formal assignment once again in the Archdiocese," Oates wrote.

Earlier, in 1981, after Geoghan had been accused of sexually molesting seven Jamaica Plain boys and had been removed from St. Andrew Parish, the tone of Geo ghan's doctors and superiors was much the same.

Brennan, writing to Bishop Thomas V. Daily, said that he had met with Geoghan and that "it was mutually agreed that he was now able to resume his priestly duties."

In his reply, Daily said, "Thank you so much for this recommendation, and I shall certainly make a note to His Eminence, the Cardinal, and look forward to the assignment of Father Geoghan very soon."

Within weeks, Geoghan was sent to St. Brendan Parish in Dorchester, where he found himself happy in his work. "Thank God for modern medicine and good doctors," Geoghan wrote in a February 1981 letter to the Rev. Gilbert S. Phinn, then the clergy personnel director.

But by the end of 1984 Geoghan was in trouble again. After more allegations that he had sexually abused minors, Law removed him from the parish, listing his status as "in between assignment."

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 1/24/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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