Vatican Official Comments on Geoghan Murder

By John L. Allen Jr.
National Catholic Reporter [Rome]
August 25, 2003

Emphasis on pedophilia by priests in the United States seems like a means of "sullying the image of the Church," as if "someone wants to take away its moral force," according to a senior Vatican official.

The comments from Archbishop Julian Herranz, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, have been the only reaction to date from the Vatican to the murder of ex-priest John Geoghan on August 23.

Herranz granted an interview to the Roman daily La Repubblica August 25. A member of Opus Dei, Herranz, 73, is in effect the Vatican's attorney general.

John Geoghan, a former Boston priest convicted of sexual abuse who was forcibly laicized in 1998, was bound, gagged and strangled Aug. 23 in his cell on the protective-custody unit of a Massachusetts state prison. He was serving a 10-year sentence on a sexual molestation charge and had been accused of abusing more than 130 children.

Herranz referred to the death as a "painful" incident. "As soon as I heard, I prayed for his soul and for his aggressor," he said.

Asked what lesson the Church might draw from the episode, Herranz replied, "That there is always the reality of sin in the world, in this case the sin of homicide. What caused this we don't know. We can't judge. Now all is in the hands of God, the Supreme Judge: only he knows how to judge because he knows that even the most persistent sinner in the end can repent. Maybe Geoghan in prison had already begun to repent for the evil he did."

Asked if the Holy See was succeeding in crushing the problem of pedophilia in the Church, Herranz said, "The drama of pedophilia is a problem that doesn't regard just priests of the Catholic Church, but the entire society. It's enough to look on the Internet. I don't understand why it's talked about only with the Church, as if somebody wants to sully its image in order to take away its moral force."

The reporter then said that priestly pedophilia in the American Church was a reality that couldn't be ignored.

"That's true," Herranz responded. "But pedophilia is only minimally identified with the Church, touching scarcely one percent of priests. Meanwhile for other categories of persons, the percentages are much higher.

"In any event, this is a very painful question for the Church, because the Church is the first to condemn pedophilia as an abominable crime and for this reason has launched a very severe discipline with tough disciplinary measures, which are difficult to equal in other civil societies."

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR's Vatican correspondent. His e-mail address is

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