The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Law details view of complaint on Geoghan

By Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 1/15/2003

By 1991, Cardinal Bernard F. Law had twice approved psychiatric treatment for the Rev. John J. Geoghan because of allegations Geoghan had sexually molested numerous children.

But when Bishop Alfred C. Hughes told Law that year that he had received a complaint about Geoghan ''proselytizing'' at a Waltham swimming pool and perhaps showing a ''prurient'' interest in a young boy, Law was not alarmed.

''Didn't it concern you at all that Father Geoghan was now at a place where children were congregating outside his parish?'' Law was asked in pretrial testimony released yesterday.

''You know,'' Law answered, ''the case, as it was brought to me, was a complaint relating to proselytizing, and I was taking it at that.''

In four days of testimony taken last May and July, the first portion of which was released last year, Law repeatedly said he relied on subordinates when making decisions about Geoghan's career. Law, however, did say he was personally involved in obtaining a 1989 psychiatric evaluation used to allow Geoghan, who had faced complaints of abuse in prior parish assignments, to continue working at St. Julia Church in Weston.

The deposition was taken in conjunction with lawsuits filed by 86 men and women who said Geoghan molested them when they were children. The cases were settled out of court last September with a $10 million payment by the Boston Archdiocese.

In the testimony released yesterday under a court order, Law also acknowledged that Geoghan's influential uncle, the late Monsignor Mark H. Keohane, contacted church officials to request a copy of another evaluation, also made in 1989, that recommended Geoghan be removed from active ministry. Church records released in the Geoghan lawsuits contain a note from Geoghan to Bishop Robert J. Banks, authorizing Banks to ''reveal to my uncle, Msgr. Keohane, any and all information from any source about me.''

Law said he had a ''vague recollection'' that he may have had a conversation with Keohane about Geoghan. But he also said, ''In no way would I have ever dealt with this issue through him, nor, I must say, would I have been influenced by him.''

The Globe reported last week that Law's personal calendar shows that he had lunch with Keohane in 1984, shortly after Geoghan had been accused of molesting children while serving at St. Brendan Church in Dorchester. Two days later, records show, Law moved Geoghan to St. Julia's.

When asked how he generally dealt with allegations of clergy sex abuse, Law repeatedly said he delegated the authority to supervise such priests to aides such as Bishop Thomas V. Daily, the top administrator in the archdiocese until 1984 and now bishop of the Brooklyn, N.Y., Diocese and the Rev. John B. McCormack, Law's secretary for ministerial personnel from 1984 to 1994 and now bishop of the Manchester, N.H., Diocese.

At one point, William H. Gordon, a lawyer for the Geoghan victims, noted that Geoghan had been accused of molesting a boy in 1994, when he was assigned to a home for retired priests, and asked Law why he had not made provisions to supervise Geoghan during the times he left the home.

Law's response: ''Father John McCormack had the responsibility of delegate to handle and monitor such cases and he would have had the responsibility with regard to Father Geoghan.''

When asked what ''management tools'' he used to ensure that his deputies were doing their jobs appropriately, Law replied, ''a trust and confidence that I had then in these individuals, and a trust and confidence which I continue to have in these individuals.''

Mitchell Garabedian, another attorney for the Geoghan victims, said the newly released deposition testimony is significant because it shows that Law and his top subordinates all knew of abuse allegations against Geoghan during the 1980s and early 1990s, but did not remove the wayward priest from active ministry until 1994. Geoghan was later defrocked, convicted on a child molestation complaint and sentenced to a nine- to 10-year prison term.

''The church was notified, Law was notified, his subordinates were notified, and nothing happened,'' Garabedian said.

In his testimony, Law acknowledged that sexual misconduct with a child is a crime under church law. But he said he never considered bringing an action against Geoghan in a church tribunal, and didn't report Geoghan's misconduct to police or prosecutors at the time. Nor, Law said, did he expect Daily to do so.

''It simply wasn't in - it wasn't part of the equation,'' Law said.

Asked to describe the church's general understanding in the early 1980s of whether alleged abuse should be reported to the police, Law said the ''pastoral culture'' of the priesthood placed a high value on assuring the laity that information confided to priests, including abuse complaints, would remain confidential.

As a result, Law said, if a victim reporting abuse also wished to report the complaint to criminal authorities, ''My presumption would have been ... that that was a decision that that person would make.''

But if a priest were to make the report, ''It would be a violation of an implicit confidentiality,'' Law said.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 1/15/2003.
© Copyright 2003 New York Times Co.

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