News of Ex-Priest's Death Evokes Range of Emotions

By Katie Zezima
The Day [Boston MA]
August 25, 2003

Boston Bill and Cathy Fallon remember John J. Geoghan as a young, gregarious priest who charmed parishioners and served cookies to children, alone, after Mass.

But he also registers in their mind as the man who tore apart their parish, St. Julia's in Weston, Mass.

Geoghan was convicted of molesting a 10-year-old parishioner in 1991, opening the door to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Disturbing details of Geoghan's behavior were soon widely known, including the fact that archdiocesan officials transferred him to St. Julia's in 1984 despite knowledge of his abusive past.

Parishioners have spent the last year and a half trying to move on, and thought they were making strides with the appointment of a new pastor and the creation of a "healing group" to address abuse.

But news on Saturday set everything back a step: Geoghan, 68, was strangled to death in a Massachusetts state prison by a fellow inmate, Joseph Druce, the authorities said.

"We were moving in another direction," Cathy Fallon said after 8:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday. She said Geoghan was a criminal and needed to be removed from society, but still, "this was a complete turnaround, this senseless victimization of John Geoghan."

Parishioners and people who said they had been abused expressed a melange of emotions at the news of Geoghan's death. Many were dismayed that Geoghan could not serve out his prison term and face more charges. Many said they were saddened and felt that no one deserved to die in such a violent manner. Others, however, said they thought Geoghan, who was defrocked in 1998, had met an appropriate end.

"I did have that moment of thinking "He got what he deserved," said Michael Linscott, 44, who said Geoghan had abused him from 1967 to 1972. "He got off easy. We get to live in our own prisons, and he didn't get a chance to serve out his."

Maryetta Dussord said that Geoghan had abused her three sons and four nephews, but that she had mixed feelings about his violent death.

"He lived as a criminal and died as a criminal, but I don't know why God allowed this to happen," she said outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.

Inside the cathedral, the Rev. Monsignor Frederick Murphy offered Mass for the repose of Geoghan's soul, because his situation bred "sadness upon sadness and tragedy upon tragedy." Murphy's homily mentioned martyrs, but was written for the Feast of St. Bartholomew before Geoghan's death.

A parishioner, Perlyia Pashe, 56, thought the offering was in poor taste. "It was wrong," she said. "It was unacceptable. It's thoughtless of the people going through the healing process."

The state Department of Corrections is investigating the circumstances surrounding Geoghan's death, according to a spokeswoman, Kelly Nantel.

Druce attacked Geoghan shortly after noon Saturday at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Facility in Shirley, the authorities said. Geoghan was taken to the University of Massachusetts Memorial Health Alliance Hospital in Leominster, where he died at 1:17 p.m. An autopsy is planned for Monday.

Geoghan had been living in a protective custody unit since being transferred to the prison on April 3. Officials would not say whether Druce, who will be charged with murder, was also in protective custody, or why they thought the attack occurred.

"It's all under investigation," Nantel said.

Druce, 37, was serving a life sentence for murder, armed robbery and auto theft, Nantel said. Druce apparently changed his name from Darrin Smiledge while in prison. He was convicted of murder in the 1988 strangulation and beating death of a Gloucester man.

Last summer Druce pleaded guilty to sending a letter decorated with swastikas, and laced with a white substance that appeared to be anthrax, to a prosecutor. He admitted sending similar letters to 39 other lawyers with names that sounded Jewish to him.

In two of the city's newspapers, The Boston Herald and The Boston Globe, Druce's father, Dana Smiledge, was quoted as saying his son was a Nazi sympathizer who had a grudge against homosexuals, blacks and Jews. The Herald reported that Smiledge said his son had been sexually abused by men when he was younger.

Smiledge refused to comment on Sunday on the steps of his large, flagstone-faced house, which looks onto a field in Byfield, Mass., about 30 miles north of Boston.

"I'm on the phone with my lawyer," he said.

Nantel would not comment on whether Geoghan had been threatened in prison. But according to Cathy Fallon, parishioners who corresponded with Geoghan said he felt he was in danger.

"He'd been living in fear for his life in prison," she said.

Geoghan is accused of sexually abusing more than 130 children in his 34-year tenure in the Archdiocese of Boston. The revelations about Geoghan, which surfaced in January 2002, touched off the unsealing of thousands of pages of church records describing sexual abuse and a pervasive cover-up. Cardinal Bernard F. Law resigned in December amid growing criticism of his handling of the issue.

The records show that Geoghan often preyed on children in single-parent homes, taking them out for ice cream or to baseball games and then molesting them. Geoghan was serving a nine-to-10 year sentence for the 1991 incident and faced other criminal charges.

Mitchell Garabedian, a plaintiff's lawyer who said 147 people had come to him with reports that Geoghan abused them, said the civil cases would continue.

Garabedian secured a $10 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Boston for 86 victims of Geoghan in September. The archdiocese last week offered $65 million, $10 million more than it had offered earlier this month, to settle 542 cases, 26 of which involved Geoghan. Lawyers are still negotiating.

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