Second Abuse Case Looms; Allegations against Priest Go Back to '60s
By Tom Mashberg
February 11, 2002
On the heels of the Rev. John Geoghan molestation scandal, a second major lawsuit is looming against the archdiocese over a priest who allegedly preyed on boys as far back as the 1960s, yet was not removed from the priesthood until the 1990s, attorneys say.
The former priest, Paul J. Mahan, 57, a native of Swampscott whose last known address was Arlington, Va., is slated to appear in Suffolk Superior Court for pretrial conferencing this month.
He has been accused of abuse by 13 boys, with the allegations dating from 1968 until the mid-1990s.
Sources familiar with Mahan's history say more allegations against him have surfaced in recent days, after his name was printed in the Herald.
In a little-noticed but far-reaching ruling in July 2001, Superior Court Judge Mitchell J. Sikora Jr. ordered the archdiocese to turn over all records related to Mahan's mental or physical treatment while a priest, and any internal communications about his assignments and transfers by church higher-ups.
Those documents are likely to expose the extent to which Mahan, like Geoghan, was protected by the Catholic Church, and allowed to remain in parish work.
"The documentation and the record indicate he was not only a pedophile but a very active one until at least 1982," said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents 118 victims in the Geoghan case and 11 of the 13 victims who have filed suit in the Mahan case.
"I can hardly be suprised if more invidividuals were to come forward to claim they were molested by Father Mahan, or by any other recently identified priest," he said.
In addition to Garabedian's 11 clients, another Boston attorney, Joseph G. Abromovitz, is representing two of Mahan's nephews.
They allege they were repeatedly molested by him over a period of five years in the 1990s while in his care in Boston and New Jersey.
Mahan is a graduate of St. John's Seminary in Brighton and was ordained in 1968. His assignments included St. Ann Church in Dorchester and St. Joseph Church in Needham from 1969 and 1982, and St. Matthew Church in Dorchester from 1983 until 1994.
He was moved to Needham from Dorchester after a series of allegations against him arose, in the mid-1970s, and he was shifted from Needham back to Dorchester amid a second wave of allegations in the early 1980s.
He was listed by the archdiocese as "unassigned" from 1994 until 1997, when he was finally defrocked after more sex abuse allegations arose from parishioners and from his two young nephews.
Mahan's known archdiocesan record includes at least two visits to treatment facilities frequently used by the Catholic Church to contend with pedophile priests - St. Luke Institute in Suitland, Md., and Southdown in Aurora, Ont.
Geoghan, whose career parallels that of Mahan in many instances, and who was convicted last month of molesting one child, was also sent to those two centers before he was finally defrocked, also in 1997.
Efforts to reach Mahan were unsuccessful. He did not return repeated phone messages left on his answering machine in Arlington, Va.; and he did not answer the door when a Herald reporter appeared at his 1600 North Oak St. apartment building last week. Since that visit, his phone has been disconnected.
In an interview with the Herald, one of the 13 individuals who are suing Mahan and the Archdiocese of Boston described him as a cunning and menacing predator who went to great pains to isolate and molest boys from broken homes.
"There was always something in those eyes of his," said William R. Oberle, 44, of Dorchester, who recalls numerous times in which Mahan grabbed him by the genitals or the behind when Oberle was a 12-year-old in 1969.
"It was just an endless series of . . . shoving his hands down my pants and other guys' pants. It was sickening. I just blocked it all out."
Oberle recalled one episode in which he alleged Mahan took him and two of his brothers aboard a boat and molested Oberle while he was below deck trying to use the bathroom.
Oberle said he "can't forget" the "look of sheer horror" on his little brothers' faces when they allegedly caught Mahan in the act.
With Judge Sikora's order in place, Garabedian expects to receive the Mahan records within 60 days. But it has been a struggle.
As with the Geoghan case documents, the Archdiocese of Boston moved for a "protective order" in the Mahan case.
Attorneys for Bernard Cardinal Law and the archdiocese asserted the plaintiffs were treading on religious freedoms when they sought to depose the "supervisory clerics" at the chancery responsible for Mahan.
But Sikora wrote that "because third parties (minors) were alleged to be harmed, the supervisory clerics' allege tortious conduct may be subject to regulation for the protection of society."
He also waved aside claims by Law's attorneys that "pastoral privilege" precluded the church from turning over Mahan's "non-confessional health records." Sikora ordered that the documents be made available to the plaintiffs and their lawyers.
"Judge Sikora's decision is critical to proving the plaintiffs' cases," Garabedian said. "Father Mahan was another priest who took advantage of vulnerable families and disadvantaged children. I hope to finally be getting those internal documents in the next 60 days."
Garabedian and other experts noted that rampant pedophiles are rarely brought to justice after just one allegation.
Oberle, an electrician, says he is eager to push ahead with his civil case and to finally confront a man he says tormented him and other boys to such a degree that their youths were ruined.
"I know some people ask, 'Why don't you just let it go?' " he said. "But the age at which this happened is a very sensitive one in the maturation process. That's why there are laws against sexual perversion, and that includes clergymen.'
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