Few Tears Are Shed

By Dennis Duggan
August 26, 2003

"A monster killed a monster," the Rev. Richard Casey told the press after Sunday's morning Mass at St. Julia's, a church in Weston, Mass., where John J. Geoghan celebrated Mass for eight years starting in 1984.

His strong reaction caught the mood of many Catholics who felt they were betrayed by higher-ups in the church who moved the disgraced priest from one parish to another, enabling him to continue his unrelenting and unrepentant sexual assaults on the young.

Another kind of reaction came from a caller in Wichita to a Boston talk show yesterday who claimed he had been abused by Geoghan for two years.

"He said that he had a big party to celebrate" Geoghan's death, and that "he had it coming," said Luise Dittrich, a spokeswoman for the Voice of the Faithful, a group that supports victims of assaults by the clergy.

William Fallon, 72, a retired computer consultant who is a regular parishioner at St. Julia's, recalls the priest as a "lightweight, an inoffensive and congenial, even solicitous" man who was "well regarded" by parishioners who didn't know what Geoghan's bosses knew, that the sad-faced priest was a serial pedophiliac.

He knows better now and he has mixed emotions about the "brutal death" of Geoghan - "no one should condone that" - but who is still dismayed by the cover-up by higher church officials including Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who has since resigned.

"They betrayed us," says Fallon, who says he isn't thinking about leaving the church yet although some of his fellow parishioners have joined other Protestant churches, but he is a member of the Voice of the Faithful, which wants more involvement of the laity in church matters.

"They shattered our trust in them," says Fallon, who lives with his wife, Cathy, and three children in Weston. "Our children were too old for Geoghan," he says, adding "thankfully."

The Catholic church has gone the way of the big corporate honchos who cheated their stockholders, holding them in the same disdain that the church hierarchy holds its faithful.

Both think of the men and women who fill their pockets each week with hard-earned cash as suckers. They answer only to their bosses in the Vatican who flatly reject requests for women to fill the jobs left vacant by a declining clergy and who, say some priests here, are presiding over a coming disaster, the closing of churches and their schools, and by forcing overworked priests to work in two parishes to meet the decline in the call to serve God.

I grew up in the church - St. Gregory's in Detroit - where the only whiff of scandal we knew was the unexplained disappearance of a priest. Later we heard that the priest had left his calling for a woman.

It wasn't a woman who made me question why I was going to church every morning before school and Sundays, but a pompous and bullying monsignor who all but pointed a gun at us to separate us from our money.

That was a long time ago and I have since made friends with priests who actually do work in the vineyards. One of them is Msgr. John Jenik, a hard-nosed, drug-busting priest who works out of Our Lady of Refuge in the South Bronx and who ministers to mostly poor Hispanic congregants.

"Funny you should ask," he said yesterday when I asked about Geoghan. "I mentioned him in my homily at Mass Sunday and used the word 'horrific' to describe him. But I also said that forgiveness is extended to one and all including Hitler and Stalin because it is the church position that all will be saved."

However, then Cardinal Terence Cooke of St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1979 refused a public Mass for gangster Carmine Galante, who had been gunned down in a Bushwick restaurant. Instead, prayers were said at a funeral home for Galante.

Jenik sits on the Priests Council which meets with the higher-ups here to talk about church matters and about the deepening financial crisis facing the church and the decline in the numbers of those who want to become priests.

"That's why we are doubling up now, combining our churches, making priests work in two parishes. The fact is that we don't have a good bench any longer," says Jenik.

There is even talk that the American Catholic church may decide to split with Rome and to run its own business here in the way some Protestants left their founders.

In his new book, "A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America," (Simon & Schuster) Peter Steinfels, who writes on religion for The New York Times, puts his case in the opening sentence of his book:

"Today the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is on the verge of either an irreversible decline or a thoroughgoing transformation."

Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represents some alleged 200 victims of sexual abuse, says he had hoped the fallen priest would come out of jail - that would have been in about six years - and faced two civil suits prepared by Garabedian on behalf of two minors the priest assaulted.

"That's over now and my clients are disappointed," Garabedian said yesterday over the phone from Boston. There are civil suits pending because they have been lodged against the church bosses, including Law.

It's all over for Geoghan now and I can't say rest in peace. It's not over for the hundreds of youngsters he abused. Their pain will last as long as they draw a breath.

For them I can only hope that they will wake up one morning and reclaim the innocence that was brutally snatched from them by twisted men they trusted.

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