Back to homepage Arts | Entertainment Boston Globe Online BostonWorks Real Estate Sports digitalMass Travel The Boston Globe Spotlight Investigation Abuse in the Catholic Church
HomePredator priestsScandal and coverupThe victimsThe financial costOpinion
Cardinal Law and the laityThe church's responseThe clergyInvestigations and lawsuits
Interactive2002 scandal overviewParish mapExtrasArchivesDocumentsAbout this site
2014 update

Crux, a Catholic news site

A new site from the Boston Globe includes news updates on clergy abuse and other Catholic issues.
 Latest coverage

October 25
Victims could now collect

October 2
Geoghan's sister hits guards

October 1
Geoghan's sister to speak

September 27
Conviction erasure protested
Druce is hospitalized again
Guard ad seeks understanding

September 24
Inquiry: Druce beaten as child

September 20
Druce pleads not guilty in slay
Geoghan claims guard assault

September 14
Report says Druce in a rage

September 13
Letter: Druce abused as a boy

September 12
Geoghan bore guards' abuse
Lawyer: Mail deluges accused

September 11
Expanded panel is sought

September 8
Druce is returned from hospital

September 5
Geoghan consultant ties eyed

September 4
Conflict raised on consultant

September 3
Bias concerns raised in probe

September 2
No new panel members seen

August 31
Geoghan panel to expand

Earlier stories

Spotlight Report

Predator priest seen as obvious prison target

Now, charges won't be heard

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 8/25/2003

 Related stories
Geoghan killed
Geoghan's sister criticizes guards

Geoghan's sister to speak

Victims protest conviction erasure
Druce is hospitalized again
Guards' ad seeks understanding

Inquiry: Druce beaten as a child

Druce pleads not guilty to killing
Geoghan claimed guard assault

Report describes Druce in a rage

Letter says Druce abused as boy

Inmate: Geoghan bore abuse
Lawyer: Mail deluging accused

Expanded Geoghan panel sought

Druce is returned from hospital

McNamara: A back-page death

Geoghan consultant's ties eyed
McGrory: Romney can do better

Conflict issue raised on consultant

Bias concerns are raised in probe

No new members seen for panel

Geoghan panel will be expanded

Group assails prison guards
Geoghan is buried in Brookline
Op-Ed: Geoghan's 'innocence'

Priest in 'aggressive' case unit
Records show Druce as deviant
Voiding of record is challenged

Bid to keep Geoghan at Concord
Geoghan's death voids conviction
Prison units see volatile mixes
US attorney won't rush decision

Monthlong plot to kill Geoghan
Alleged killer led troubled life

Geoghan was tied and beaten
Death doesn't end victim suffering
Similiarities in suspect's '88 crime
Priest seen as a prison target

Geoghan is strangled in prison
A troubled life exploiting vocation

Geoghan case letters, documents
Law deposition in Geoghan case

 From the archives
Key stories in the Geoghan case

Church allowed abuse for years

Geoghan found guilty of sex abuse

Geoghan receives 9-10 years

Law recalls little on Geoghan case

Geoghan victims settle for $10m

 Complete coverage
The John Geoghan case

Even in protective custody, the predator priest who spent decades sexually molesting trusting young children was an obvious target for violence. In prisons throughout the United States, corrections specialists say, inmates observe an unforgiving hierarchy that relegates child molesters such as former Catholic priest John J. Geoghan to the dregs of prison society -- and rewards those who attack them.

"There is a pecking order, and child molesters are at the very bottom," said John Daignault, a forensic psychologist at Harvard Medical School and a former state prison official. "They are often subjected to violent acts, and to sexual acts, as a recompense for what they were perceived to have done to others."

Some corrections specialists said the social structure in prisons is so pervasive -- and so familiar to prison officials -- that it came as no surprise to learn that Geoghan was allegedly strangled and beaten to death Saturday by fellow inmate Joseph L. Druce in the protective custody unit at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center.

"Child molesters are in the lowest category of human being, as far as prisoners are concerned," said Edith Flynn, professor emeritus of criminal justice at Northeastern University. "It was entirely predictable that this man would be targeted."

James Alan Fox, another Northeastern criminal justice professor, said Geoghan should have been seen as being at especially high risk because he was not only a convicted pedophile, but one who had molested boys and had received significant media attention. "There was a bull's eye on his uniform. He was clearly at risk," Fox said.

Those familiar with prison life say that the most violent inmates, even murderers, typically occupy the upper rungs of a prison's social caste, while criminals who have attacked children and the elderly, or who exhibit psychological disorders, struggle desperately to survive at the bottom.

"There is a tremendous fear of exposing any type of weakness. You present yourself as a person of strength and power willing to take any risk to not be humiliated," said Stuart Grassian, a Newton psychiatrist who has written about prison life. "In a prison setting there's often a rageful need to find people you can beat down and feel stronger than. People who commit pedophilia are seen as weak and disgusting and immoral. A person like Geoghan is inevitably going to be at the bottom of the hierarchy."

In addition, inmates such as Druce, an admitted neo-Nazi and convicted killer who is already serving a sentence of life without parole, may even enhance their prison reputations by violently attacking pedophiles or others at the lower end of inmate society. "Someone like this is going to increase his social status in his peer group." Grassian said.

Some of those who have studied prison populations, or worked with them, said it is not possible to say whether pedophiles are targeted for violent acts in prison because a disproportionately high percentage of the overall inmate population may have suffered child sexual abuse.

Daignault, the Harvard forensic psychologist, said most sexual abuse victims -- whether in or out of prison -- experience hate for their perpetrators but generally do not attack their abusers, unless the victims are also afflicted with other personality disorders. "The vast majority of those individuals who were sexually abused suffer internally with a whole host of feelings, one of which is hatred, but do not act on the hatred," Daignault said.

Robert Sherman, an attorney with the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, said that description applies to about a half dozen prison inmates he represents who claim they were sexually abused as minors by Catholic priests, but who have generally behaved well while incarcerated.

Still, Sherman said, a prison culture in which the strong prey on the weak has left several of his clients unwilling to reveal the abuse they suffered to other inmates. "They feel that the information coming out in a prison setting could subject them to an inordinate amount of harassment, scorn, and abuse," Sherman said. "It's a macho culture there."

© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Advertise | Contact us | Privacy policy