Man testifies Geoghan fondled him
Incident alleged at Waltham pool in early 1990s
By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 1/17/2002
e was trying to teach himself to dive from the deep end of the swimming pool, he said, when a familiar man asked if he wanted help. "Yes," answered the boy, and he dove some more, coached by the priest he had seen a few times around his Waltham housing project.
But about 15 minutes later, as he floated in the pool near the priest, the boy was startled by an unexpected touch: a hand that slid up his leg, beneath his bathing suit, and squeezed his buttocks, he said.
He swam away across the green-bottomed pool to the shallow end, where his mother and little sister played.
"It was kind of like bells went off," the alleged victim, now a 20-year-old man, said in court yesterday. "I was really nervous."
On the first day of testimony in the first sexual assault trial of former priest John J. Geoghan, the witness described how Geoghan allegedly touched him in the swimming pool at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club in the early 1990s. The young man, a college student, spoke so softly that jurors repeatedly raised their hands to show they couldn't hear.
Under cross-examination, he could not recall the day, month, or year that the alleged assault took place, saying that he believed he was 9 at the time. He did not report the alleged fondling to police until 1999, some eight years after it allegedly occurred.
Interest in the case is keen just a week after Cardinal Bernard Law apologized to victims of clergy sexual abuse and called his decision to assign Geoghan, an accused pedophile, to another parish "tragically incorrect." Geoghan was assigned to St. Julia's parish in Weston at the time of the alleged assault.
More than 130 people have come forward to allege that Geoghan, 66, fondled and raped them as children over three decades, and many of their civil lawsuits against the defrocked priest and church officials are still pending.
A few of those alleged victims -- along with reporters, Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, and curious onlookers -- packed into the Middlesex Superior courtroom yesterday for the beginning of the brief trial. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating as soon as today.
Geoghan has pleaded not guilty to one charge of indecent assault and battery on a child, and yesterday his lawyer focused on discrepancies in the various versions of the alleged assault.
Defense attorney Geoffrey Packard quizzed the alleged victim on the details he could not remember, including exactly when the alleged assault occurred.
"I believe I was 9," the young man said. "I'm not exactly sure."
In her opening statement to jurors, Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Lynn Rooney said the boy was 10. The alleged victim's mother told a detective -- years after the alleged assault -- that her son was 11. Even the official indictment slip has months and years crossed out and rewritten by hand.
Packard focused on other discrepancies. While the alleged victim testified he was in the water when Geoghan touched him, his mother told a detective in 1999 that her son said he was getting out of the swimming pool when Geoghan slipped his hands under his bathing suit and pushed him out of the water and onto the pool's edge.
Judge Sandra Hamlin ordered that both the young man's name, and that of his mother, not be reported.
The case, Packard said in his opening statement, "is not complex." The alleged victim charges that Geoghan "squeezed his butt once," he said. "That's it. Just about everything else is embellishment and window dressing."
Packard also suggested that the alleged victim and his mother came forward in 1999 when they decided to file a civil lawsuit against Geoghan. The mother wants the church to pay damages, including for her son's severe emotional distress and loss of earning potential, Packard said.
"I submit to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury," Packard said. "That's what this case is about."
But the alleged victim's mother disputed that money was her motive.
"We didn't ask for money," she testified. "We just asked for closure. My son and I had said that we just wanted to put an end to everything that was happening, so it wouldn't happen again."
She said her son told her that Geoghan had also touched him as they walked home that day from the swimming pool. She could tell he was upset because, although the weather was cold, he had pulled his pants on over his wet bathing suit.
She wanted to go back to the YMCA and complain about Geoghan, she said, but her son balked. "He told me he didn't want anyone to know," she testified. "When I asked him why, he said, `I just want to be left alone.' "
The assault may have lasted only a few seconds, Rooney told jurors. "But those few seconds are forever emblazoned in the memory of [the alleged victim]," she said.
Yesterday afternoon, court officers removed Mark Keane, another of Geoghan's alleged victims, from the courtroom during a break and frisked him in the hallway. He was allowed to return to his seat.
"Apparently someone felt threatened by me," Keane said later, adding that the incident "once again made me a victim" of Geoghan. As Keane moved through the courtroom earlier in the day, he said, Geoghan "turned to me and stared me down as if to burn a hole in me."
Kathleen Burge can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 1/17/2002.