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Disgraceful acts

Cardinal Law must come clean


Last week, the Boston Phoenix published staff writer Kristen Lombardi’s 7000-word account of former priest John Geoghan’s molestation of more than 100 Massachusetts children (see “Cardinal Law, the Church, and Pedophilia,” News and Features, March 23, archived online at The most shocking element of the account is that Bernard Cardinal Law likely knew of Geoghan’s criminal activity as far back as 1984 and effectively did nothing to stop it. Geoghan’s victims allege abuse spanning the defrocked priest’s entire career, from his ordination in 1962 to two years after his retirement from parish duties in 1995. Sadly, cases of pedophilic priests have apparently become so common that even the naming of Boston’s cardinal as a defendant along with Geoghan (the first time a pedophilic priest’s cardinal has been so named) barely raises an eyebrow. With the exception of an insightful March 25 editorial by the Boston Herald ( stressing that Geoghan’s victims deserve answers from the cardinal before these cases can be put to rest, as well as an hour-long discussion of the Phoenix article on The David Brudnoy Show on March 23, not a word about Law’s defendant status could be read or heard in Boston’s major media outlets since the news was reported two months ago.

Consider the following:

• On January 5, Suffolk Superior Court judge James McHugh reviewed a motion and evidence brought by 25 plaintiffs seeking to name Law as a defendant with Geoghan and five bishops. McHugh, who had been “specially assigned” by the court to deal with these cases, ruled that there was sufficient evidence to name the cardinal in the suits. Law’s attorneys tried to seal the news that Law had been named as a co-defendant. McHugh refused to grant the motion, but he did agree to seal the supporting evidence until trial. (Since rendering these decisions, McHugh has been elevated to the appeals court. He will be replaced by Superior Court judge Constance McSweeney of Springfield.)

• Father Thomas Doyle, a canonical lawyer who worked for the Vatican embassy in Washington in the mid ’80s, asserts that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops — of which Law is a senior member — was briefed on the extent of pedophilia within the priesthood in 1985 when Doyle, who co-authored a 126-page report titled “Meeting the Problem of Sexual Dysfunction in a Responsible Way,” presented it to all American bishops.

• Doyle, now a chaplain for the United States Air Force who has testified for plaintiffs in cases of sex abuse by clergy, charges that Geoghan “flunked out” of at least two and possibly three pedophile-treatment programs. His assertions are backed up by A.W. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former monk who counseled sexually disordered priests in the 1970s at the Seton Psychiatric Institute and worked at the Johns Hopkins University Sexual Disorders Clinic in the 1980s.

Supervising bishops check priests in need of treatment into clinics, and the archdiocese foots the bill. Given that Geoghan attended two and possibly three such treatment programs, Sipe notes: “Somebody must have thought that he needed treatment again.” In other words, someone in a supervisory position at the Boston archdiocese had reason to believe Geoghan was molesting children. Despite this, Geoghan was repeatedly assigned to work at parishes populated with children when he could have been moved to a prison, military, or administrative ministry. All told, Geoghan worked for six parishes throughout Massachusetts.

• Sipe, author of A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy (Brunner/Mazel, 1990), an analysis of celibacy and the priesthood based on 1500 of his cases, says that Geoghan is “well known” within the community of caregivers who treat pedophilic priests: “He is notorious because he has been treated by so many people, at nearly every psychiatric hospital in the country.”

• Stephen Lyons, an attorney who has successfully litigated clergy sex-abuse cases against the Boston archdiocese (though none involved Geoghan), says he is “well aware” of evidence proving the cardinal knew about Geoghan’s pedophilia — though confidentiality orders prevent him from revealing the evidence. “This has been a dirty little secret the Church has tried desperately to keep quiet,” he asserts. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s extraordinary Law hasn’t been named a defendant [in the Geoghan cases] before.”

• In 1973 (Law did not come to the Boston archdiocese until 1984), a Melrose mother confided in her parish priest, Father Paul Miceli, that she suspected Geoghan was molesting her four sons. According to court records, Father Miceli asked the mother to trust him to deal with Geoghan and promised her that Geoghan would undergo treatment and that he would never be a clergyman again. Seven years later, a Jamaica Plain mother confided in her parish priest that she thought Geoghan was molesting her sons and nephews, who ranged in age from six to 11. Father Miceli now heads the ministerial-personnel department at the Boston archdiocese and has been named in 57 pending lawsuits against Geoghan. (Currently, priests, rabbis, ministers, and other members of the clergy are exempt from a state law requiring that reports of child abuse be reported to police. A bill has been filed with the state legislature mandating that religious professionals be included in the law. See “Ending the Clergy Exemption,” This Just In, page 9.)

We ask again: where’s the outrage?

The Boston archdiocese has already paid between $2.5 million and $10 million to settle about 50 lawsuits filed against Geoghan dating back to 1996. In 1998, Law took the highly unusual action of laicizing — or defrocking — the retired priest. There are 84 lawsuits currently pending against Geoghan, including the 25 that name Law. In addition, Geoghan has been charged with two counts each of child rape and child assault in Suffolk County, and one count of child assault in Middlesex County, for alleged sexual abuses of three children within the past 20 years. (The first criminal trial is slated to begin September 4 at Suffolk Superior Court.) Although the archdiocese claims that it now immediately removes from parish duty priests who are found guilty of abusing children, it refuses to say whether it has ever actually done so.

It’s time for Cardinal Law to come clean on the Geoghan matter. The cardinal and the archdiocese must take full responsibility for their complicity in Geoghan’s acts. Such responsibility is not met — not even close — by paying off plaintiffs and demanding their silence in return for 30 pieces of silver. (It must also be pointed out — as one of Geoghan’s victims eloquently puts it — that Geoghan himself is a victim of Law’s negligence. Pedophilia is an incurable disease. By failing to reassign Geoghan to a prison, administrative, or military ministry, which would have eliminated — or at least drastically minimized — his contact with children, Geoghan’s superiors put him in an impossible situation. In some ways, the Boston archdiocese’s decision to keep Geoghan working in situations where he would come in frequent contact with children is comparable to placing a newly sober alcoholic in a bar or a newly clean addict in a drug den. Of the many lives shattered by this tragedy, Geoghan’s must be included.)

Law should, at minimum, step down from his duties until the lawsuits against him are decided, as would be demanded of any secular leader. Thus far in its dealings with Geoghan, his victims, and their lawsuits, the Boston archdiocese has acted more like corporate giant PG&E, which worked desperately to cover up its pollution of public water supplies, than like a spiritual institution.

And that’s a disgrace.

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Issue Date: March 29-April 5, 2001

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