9-10 Year Sentence for Molesting Child
Defrocked Priest a Threat, Judge Says
By Kathleen Burge
February 22, 2002
Calling John Geoghan a threat to any young boy who crosses his path, a Middlesex Superior Court judge yesterday sentenced the defrocked priest to 9 to 10 years in state prison, the maximum sentence allowed, for improperly touching a 10-year-old boy a decade ago. Geoghan, whose three decades of allegedly abusing more than 130 boys while serving as a parish priest have scandalized Boston's Roman Catholic archdiocese, was convicted last month of a single count of molesting a boy at a public swimming pool, the only criminal charge he has faced thus far.
Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin said she considered evidence of some of Geoghan's other sexual assaults, abuses he admitted to priests years ago, in her sentence.
"This defendant is a serious threat to any young boy who has the misfortune to come into contact with him," Hamlin said. "This court has no doubt that he's dangerous."
Geoghan abused the boy before the state's truth-in-sentencing law took effect, and therefore would be eligible for parole after six years. Hamlin ordered that after Geoghan's release he remain on probation for the rest of his life. During that probation, she said, Geoghan cannot have contact with any child younger than 14 and must participate in sex offender treatment.
Geoghan began serving his sentence yesterday at Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction, the state's maximum-security prison in Walpole, prosecutors said.
Geoghan, 66, has continued to deny the charges, recently saying during an examination at Bridgewater State Hospital that the young man who testified against him is a "skilled actor," prosecutors said. As Hamlin described Geoghan's earlier, admitted sexual assaults prior to imposing sentence, Geoghan shook his head and mouthed the word, "Never."
Both Hamlin and prosecutors quoted from Geoghan's 30-day evaluation at Bridgewater, offering a glimpse into the mind of a man who became, as his lawyer described, "a poster boy for the issue of sexual abuse by the clergy."
When asked whether he needed help for his sexual problems, Geoghan replied, according to his evaluation report, "The only help I need is to get out of this joint." Asked what he would do if he were released, Geoghan said he would drop to his knees and kiss the ground.
Asked what would he do if he were ordered to participate in sex offender treatment, he replied, "I wouldn't thank God as much," adding that he would be "terribly offended."
"There is no treatment for this man. It is the children of the Commonwealth who will be terribly offended if he is allowed to walk the streets," said Assistant District Attorney Lynn Rooney, who had requested the 9- to 10-year sentence.
Geoghan smiled at his sister as he was led away in handcuffs and leg chains, the same broad smile that has infuriated the other alleged victims who have watched this case. His lawyer, Geoffrey Packard, later said the former priest was "stunned," the same description he had offered after Geoghan's conviction.
"I think he's a very hopeful and optimistic man," said Packard, who said he will appeal Geoghan's conviction. "I think he was hoping and praying for the best."
This morning, a hearing that will decide the fate of the second criminal case against Geoghan is scheduled to continue in Suffolk Superior Court. Geoghan is charged with two counts of raping a child about two decades ago; Geoghan's lawyer argues that the charges should be dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired before Geoghan was indicted by a grand jury.
Later yesterday, Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said she took no pleasure in Geoghan's sentence, but was satisfied with its length. "I believe that wisdom suggested this sentence and the facts demanded it," she said.
Following the sentencing, the archdiocese released a statement. "While we hope today's sentencing brings some measure of peace to victims, we also understand it cannot erase the tragic scarring many individuals have suffered," said Donna Morrissey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese. "We continue to pray for their healing and extend our deepest sympathies."
Hamlin's sentence was significantly higher than the recommendation of the state's sentencing guidelines, which suggested no more than three years. Geoghan's lawyer asked Hamlin to sentence the former priest to probation. And even prosecutors, who asked for the maximum sentence, said Geoghan's crime in this case, sliding his hand inside the boy's swimming trunks and squeezing his buttocks, was not the most egregious.
Yet Hamlin, repeatedly saying that she wasn't swayed by the tidal wave of publicity about Geoghan and the unfolding scandal involving scores of current and former priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, took pains to describe the alleged abuses by a man prosecutors said had been diagnosed as a pedophile four times, most recently at Bridgewater.
"He would use his office and his position as a Catholic priest and his religion to target numerous young, vulnerable, underprivileged boys," Hamlin said. "He absolutely denies that he has a problem. He refuses to accept any responsibility for his sexual molestation."
Before Hamlin imposed her sentence, Rooney read a statement from the victim, now a 20-year-old college student who is studying abroad.
"I feel nauseous when I think about the fact that the archdiocese knew about him for so long and yet did nothing about it," he had written.
It is Globe policy not to identify victims of sexual assaults if they wish to remain anonymous.
"I thought it would be okay for me to see him in court that day," his statement said. "But when glancing at him and seeing his emotionless face, it made me feel like crying."
The victim's mother took the stand to read her own statement, asking Geoghan to apologize.
"The emotional effects I've felt are through watching the pain and confusion in my son's eyes, knowing that someone he trusted as a friend, a man of God, could harm him in such an abusive way," she said. "I would also like for [Geoghan] to be removed from civilization where he would never hurt another child."
About a dozen former parishioners, neighbors, and friends wrote letters to Hamlin on Geoghan's behalf, although none were read aloud.
Patrick McSorley, one of Geoghan's other alleged victims, watched the sentencing yesterday, later calling Geoghan's punishment a "teeny step" in his own healing process. "It's only the beginning," McSorley said, referring to the other cases against the former priest. "It's only a little taste of what you're about to receive."
About Geoghan's reported denials, McSorley said, "It's sickening."
Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer who is handling most of the civil lawsuits against Geoghan, called yesterday's sentencing "a small step in the right direction."
"Fortunately, it will help some victims regain some hope, self-respect, and self-esteem," he said. "Unfortunately, it may not help some poor souls at all. Some individuals have been so badly traumatized that they have no trust or faith in other human beings."
Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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