The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Teen declines to testify, so DA drops one case against Geoghan

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 11/14/2002

Prosecutors yesterday dropped one of two remaining criminal cases against convicted pedophile priest John J. Geoghan because a teenager refused to testify out of fear that he'd be publicly identified as a sexual abuse victim.

Geoghan, 67, was scheduled to stand trial Dec. 2. Allegations that the defrocked priest abused at least 130 children touched off the clergy sexual abuse scandal, yet the most serious of the three criminal cases brought against him has faltered.

''After careful consideration and discussion with our office, the victim in this case determined that he is not prepared to participate in a prosecution,'' Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in a prepared statement. ''We respect his wishes and thus have determined that the interests of justice are best served by dismissal of these indictments.''

The alleged victim, an 18-year-old Weymouth man, is among 86 plaintiffs who filed a civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Boston and church supervisors and reached a $10 million settlement in September. Additional suits are pending against Geoghan, other priests, and the church.

''He was feeling an enormous amount of personal and emotional pressure,'' said Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer in the civil cases. ''It requires an incredible amount of support and strength to testify. This young man is to be admired for the strength he's shown to get to this point in both the criminal and civil cases.''

The most serious criminal case against Geoghan - charging him with two counts of child rape - is on hold over the question of whether prosecutors waited too long to file charges. Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle dismissed the case, then reinstated it Aug. 29, and finally asked the state Appeals Court whether the statute of limitations has expired. The court has not yet ruled.

Geoghan began serving six years in prison in January, after he was convicted of the least serious charge: fondling the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy in a public swimming pool in Waltham. Geoghan has appealed that conviction.

It is the third case, carrying a maximum 10-year prison sentence on each charge of indecent assault and battery, that prosecutors withdrew yesterday. Although they can refile the same charges against Geoghan, it seemed unlikely yesterday that the alleged victim would change his mind. And Assistant District Attorney David Deakin told Hinkle that the case would falter without the alleged victim's cooperation.

''Clearly without his testimony, we would be unable to move forward and clearly unable to secure a conviction,'' he said.

The alleged victim said that Geoghan molested him when he was 10 and 11 years old. Prosecutors say Geoghan fondled the boy in 1995 and 1996 while driving him around downtown Boston.

Prosecutors also allege that Geoghan molested the boy in 1993 in Readville, at the christening of the alleged victim's younger sister. Geoghan had invited the boy to serve as an altar boy, prosecutors say, and fondled the boy as he was changing in the vestry.

The 18-year-old's name and face probably would not have been made public if he testified. The policy of the Globe is not to identify alleged sexual assault victims unless they wish to be known. In the first Geoghan criminal trial, Judge Sandra Hamlin ordered that the victim's identity be kept private.

But the victim in that case, then 20, still had to take the stand and describe his abuse before a crowded courtroom that was open to the public.

Geoghan's lawyer, Geoffrey Packard, said he was pleased by the decision of prosecutors.

Advocates for victims of sexual abuse said yesterday that going public is often a painful decision.

''There's no doubt that it scares people,'' said Barbara Blaine, the founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. ''People are definitely threatened by the potential of the suffering that could come to them and their families if they go public.''

At age 18, she said, the alleged Geoghan victim probably cannot yet comprehend the devastation of sexual abuse.

One of the most visible alleged victims has been Gregory Ford, who says he was abused by retired priest Paul Shanley. Ford's father, Rodney Ford, said the family thought about going public for a few days before they made their decision.

They decided their charges of sexual abuse would be taken more seriously if they told their story openly, he said. But it hasn't been easy, he said.

`It's very difficult for a young man to talk about these difficult things that have happened to him, especially by an adult male, especially by a priest,'' he said. ''He just wants this to be over with.''

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 11/14/2002.
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