The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Geoghan rape charges are too late, judge rules

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 3/8/2002

A judge yesterday threw out the two most serious criminal charges against former Catholic priest John Geoghan, the recently convicted pedophile whose decades of child molestation have roiled the Archdiocese of Boston and echoed across the nation.

Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle ruled that prosecutors waited too long to indict Geoghan, now 66, on two charges of raping a child in the early 1980s. A grand jury indicted Geoghan in 1999, more than three years after the statute of limitations had expired, Hinkle said.

''This situation illustrates the underlying purpose of the statute of limitations: to protect individuals from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts are obscured by the passage of time,'' Hinkle wrote in her 18-page decision.

The details of the case, the second of three criminal cases against the defrocked priest, had faded over the years. One prosecutor had died; files had disappeared. The alleged victim contradicted prosecutors and his mother about what he had disclosed to authorities and when, prompting Hinkle to conclude that prosecutors could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they had indicted Geoghan in time.

Suffolk County prosecutors declined to comment on Hinkle's decision yesterday, except to say they are reviewing their options. Geoghan still faces two charges in Suffolk County of indecent assault and battery on a boy in the 1990s. That case was brought well within the statute of limitations.

Geoghan's lawyer, Geoffrey Packard, was pleased with Hinkle's decision, and said prosecutors had a decade to bring charges against Geoghan.

The charges thrown out yesterday date to the early 1980s, when Geoghan allegedly fondled and orally raped a boy who was between 7 and 10 years old. The alleged victim first reported the abuse to his mother in 1986, and the report eventually landed in the Suffolk district attorney's office.

At least 130 children have alleged that Geoghan molested them during his three decades as a parish priest in and around Boston. Since the mid-1990s, the archdiocese has paid $15 million to 100 victims of Geoghan. The tentative settlement of cases involving another 86 people is estimated to cost another $20 million to $30 million.

In a statement yesterday, the archdiocese, which secretly settled lawsuits filed by victims of Geoghan and transferred him from parish to parish despite numerous complaints that he had molested children, said dismissal of the charges highlighted the need for church officials to report suspected child molestation. Legislation that would require clergy to report suspected child sexual abuse to authorities is being debated on Beacon Hill.

''The dismissal of these charges underscores the necessity for mandated reporting instances of suspected abuse of minors,'' said a statement from the archdiocese. ''The fact that these charges were dismissed does not make them less heinous ... We hope that John Geoghan will one day acknowledge his responsibility in this tragedy and that he may come to the full awareness of the devastating consequences of his abuse of innocent children.''

In the case dismissed yesterday, the mother has said that she thought her son was too fragile to press criminal charges against Geoghan back in 1986 and the case was closed. It was reopened in 1989, but the mother still declined to press charges, she testified at a hearing last month.

After the case was reopened again, Geoghan was indicted in December 1999 on two charges of rape of a child.

Hinkle's decision to dismiss the two charges against Geoghan was based on her parsing of the state's statute of limitations. Assistant District Attorney David Deakin had argued that although the alleged victim first reported in 1986 that Geoghan had fondled him, he hadn't reported until 1989 that the priest had also raped him.

And since Geoghan was indicted on rape, not fondling, the 10-year statute of limitations didn't begin running until 1989, he argued. That meant that when the Legislature extended the statute for child rape cases to 15 years in 1996, it applied to the Geoghan case, giving prosecutors until 2004 to indict him, he argued.

But Hinkle disagreed. She noted that when the alleged victim testified at a hearing last month, he said he reported ''everything'' - all of Geoghan's abuse - in 1986, disagreeing with prosecutors and with his mother.

That ''stark conflict'' in testimony and other evidence, she wrote, persuaded her to rule that prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that law enforcement did not receive a report of oral sex until 1989.

''In addition,'' she wrote, ''whether or not [the alleged victim's] account of the sexual abuse by the defendant included a specific allegation of oral sex, law enforcement officials in March of 1986 had sufficient information from which they reasonably should have known about [the boy's] claim that the defendant had engaged in oral sex with him.''

The alleged victim, now a 27-year-old father, has already settled a civil lawsuit he filed against Geoghan and the archdiocese. He refused comment yesterday.

''This is the result you can get when supervisors are allowed to keep sexual molestation secret,'' said Mitchell Garabedian, his lawyer in the civil lawsuit. '' ... In essence, the victim is re-victimized. My client is a strong and brave individual. He will see himself through this matter.''

Packard is appealing Geoghan's January conviction for indecently touching the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy in a public swimmin pool. Judge Sandra Hamlin sentenced him to serve six years of a 9-10-year prison sentence, and remain on probation for life.

But Packard argues that the judge allowed improper testimony at the trial, and wrongly instructed jurors about how to resolve conflicting testimony between the victim and his mother.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 3/8/2002.
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