Catholicism/Clergy Abuse
Yet Another Victim
John J. Geoghan, Priest at Center of Catholic Scandal, Slain in Prison

By Paul Schindler
Gay City News [Massachusetts]
Downloaded August 30, 2003

The death of John J. Geoghan, the 68-year-old defrocked Roman Catholic priest serving a nine-year Massachusetts prison sentence for fondling a ten-year-old boy in a public swimming pool more than a decade ago, provides little avenue for closure for thousands affected by the crisis in the church that revelations of his crimes triggered 18 months ago.

To date, 147 people, most of them men, have come forward with charges that Geoghan used his position of authority as a priest to sexually abuse them when they were children. His case unleashed an avalanche of charges against priests and bishops, not only in the Boston archdiocese but also nationwide. The church in Boston lost its archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, in the scandal's wake, and has agreed to pay $10 million to a group of 86 alleged victims of Geoghan, while facing lawsuits from more than 20 others.

But even as several of Geoghan's victims publicly expressed satisfaction at his death, allegedly at the hands of another prisoner, 37-year-old Joseph L. Druce, the failure of corrections officials to prevent the gruesome murder and Druce's own life history raise troubling questions that will not soon fade away.

It is clear that the murder will focus a harsh spotlight on the conditions of prisons in Massachusetts––a special three-member panel appointed by Governor Mitt Romney has already begun that process. News that Druce, convicted of the 1988 murder of a 51-year-old man who he said made a sexual advance toward him, was himself the victim of sexual abuse as a youth reinforced the truth that abuse begets abuse in a tragically vicious cycle. And a technicality of state law that could void the one conviction prosecutors won against Geoghan threatens to open up old wounds for his victims, even as their attorney insists that pending civil cases against the Boston archdiocese based on the ex-priest's abuses can still move forward successfully.

In the murder's immediate aftermath, Massachusetts correctional officials were unable to explain how Geoghan—an older, frail convicted pedophile—and Druce—who was convicted of the 1988 murder of a man who court records indicate was gay; who had a history of white supremacist and anti-Semitic views; and whose father spoke up this week about the childhood sexual abuse his son suffered—ended up being two of the 24 prisoners in protective custody at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley.

State officials also scrambled to account for why only one guard was on hand last Saturday as the 24 inmates were out of their cells for lunch.

At least in general terms, top Massachusetts officials readily conceded that Geoghan's death represented a systemic meltdown.

"We cannot escape the fact that an inmate died while in the care of the Department of Correction." Ed Flynn, the state's Public Safety Commissioner said Monday.

That acknowledgement, however, did not stave off harsh criticism.

Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, which advocates on behalf of "the human and civil rights" of the state's 21,000 prisoners, issued a statement on August 28 saying that "substantial reforms are necessary to ensure that operations in the Department of Correction do not return to business as usual," and that the state must demonstrate "a clear commitment… that the current prison culture, which not only tolerates but promotes and encourages physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the correctional staff and other prisoners, must change."

Druce ended up at Shirley because he had been a problem inmate; Geoghan was viewed as vulnerable. Noting that two such different prisoners could end up in protective custody, MCLS said that inmates there "need to be separated not only from the general population, but from each other… Common sense dictates that it is not acceptable to place passive and vulnerable prisoners in a super-maximum security prison designed for those with histories of extreme violence."

Even before being placed in the Shirley facility, Geoghan experienced problems. The August 28 Boston Globe quoted MCLS' Peter J. Costanza as saying that, while at a prison in Concord, Geoghan complained that officials gave him contaminated food, he was continually taunted, and at least once he encountered human excrement on his bed. Despite his complaints, a panel at Concord recommended that Geoghan be kept there, a decision overridden by that facility's superintendent. A Department of Correction spokesperson said that the decision to move the ex-priest to Shirley was due to "Mr. Geoghan's accumulation of disciplinary reports and his overall poor institutional adjustment."

MCLS charged that the state's claims of disciplinary problems from Geoghan were "trumped up," but acknowledged that it pressured corrections officials to move him to a higher security facility. Costanza told The Globe, however, that given the deference courts give to the correction department in placing prisoners, MCLS made no specific recommendation on where Geoghan should be moved.

David Skeels, one of Geoghan's lawyers at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the name for the public defenders in Massachusetts, was unable to tell Gay City News what role his office might have played in Geoghan's transfer.

News reporting in the immediate aftermath of Geoghan's murder suggested that he was happy to have been moved to Shirley. But, MCLS attorneys have since mentioned several inmate sources who said Druce was plotting against Geoghan for several months, that the ex-priest feared for his own safety, and that he and others warned corrections officials that trouble might be in the offing.

One of the inmate sources, identified as Robert Assad, a former police officer in prison for arson, said Druce approached him asking that they stage a mock hostage incident that Druce believed would land him in federal prison where he thought conditions would be easier. Assad said that when he declined to participate, Druce indicated he would instead use Geoghan as his hostage, a statement the former cop said he passed along to prison officials.

MCLS' James Pingeon was quoted in The Globe and The Boston Herald as saying other inmates, so far unnamed, said that there was a pattern of guard harassment of Geoghan and that the ex-priest had told prison officials that he feared for his safety around Druce.

The state Correction Department declined comment on the claims made by Assad and Pingeon.

Assad's former landlord, whose building he was convicted of torching, told The Herald that the felon ex cop is "absolutely without question the most compulsive liar you could ever meet in your life."

Several observers in Massachusetts have suggested sinister motives on the part of correction, other law enforcement, and even church officials in Geoghan's death.

Paula Erickson, a psychologist who worked for four years at the Massachusetts Treatment Center for the Sexually Dangerous and is now in the private sector doing evaluations of child sex abuse victims, told Gay City News, "There is absolutely no way you put Geoghan at Shirley, given the kind of inmates you have there."

Noting that other incarcerated ex-priests have been placed in safer facilities in the state, she rhetorically asked why Geoghan had not been confined to the sort of treatment center where she once worked. Then, ominously answering her own question, she said, "Geoghan was hung out to dry, there is no question in my mind."

In monitoring the unfolding sex abuse scandal, Erickson keeps in close touch with Daniel Shea, a gay attorney from Houston who has represented a number of sex abuse victims in central Massachusetts. Contacted about the Geoghan killing, Shea forwarded a copy of a subpoena that he served in July in a civil lawsuit alleging that George Rueger, an auxiliary bishop in the Worcester diocese, raped Sime J. Braio in 1964 when the accuser was 14. Shea explained that the subpoena, served on an official of the Boston archdiocese, clearly signaled his effort to link Rueger and Geoghan to a beach house in Situate, a south shore suburb of Boston, where Braio alleges the abuse took place. The archdiocese succeeded in quashing the subpeona and Shea said his next move was to depose Geoghan directly on the matter, an option now foreclosed.

Shea declined to specifically elaborate on what significance he attaches to the events that have transpired since he first served the subpeona, but he did volunteer that he stands by statements earlier reported in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette criticizing the local district attorney John J. Conte, who will prosecute the Druce case, for an overly "cozy" relationship with the Worcester diocese. Shea and Conte's office have a long history of public sniping against each other in the Worcester media.

Father Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesperson for the Boston archdiocese, said he was unaware of the subpeona issue and that the official named would not be available for comment. While noting that the archdiocese had offered prayers for Geoghan's soul, Coyne told Gay City News that he planned to urge Archbishop Se?n Patrick O'Malley to say more "about the fact that the killing was apparently motivated by hatred against people perceived to be gay."

Neither Conte's office nor the Worcester diocese returned calls seeking comment.

Whether or not Shea and Erickson are onto anything at all in their suspicions that Geoghan's death was the result of something more than tragic indifference on the part of state officials, it is clear that Druce was the very last person that the ex-priest ever needed to encounter.

Druce, who was born with the name Darrin Ernest Smiledge, was convicted of the 1988 murder of George Rollo, a bus driver who picked up him and another man hitchhiking with him in Gloucester, Mass. The other man testified that after Rollo made a sexual advance, Druce kicked and beat him almost to death, tied him up, and drove to nearby Beverly, where he dumped the body. Police who investigated the murdered described as among the most violent crimes they ever witnessed.

Druce's father, Dana Smiledge, who has been estranged from him for eight years, said Druce lived a violent life that included sexual and physical abuse in his youth, and that he had a long-standing hatred of gays, African Americans, and Jews. The Salem Evening News reported that, in an interview after his 1989 murder conviction, Druce said he had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and had a drug and alcohol problem. He attributed his homophobia to an incident when a Gloucester lobsterman who hired him as a young man made a pass at him. The Salem newspaper quoted him saying, "So I cleaned him out and whaled on him... From that day on I hated fags."

In 2002, Druce pled guilty to mailing hoax anthrax letters to 39 lawyers and organizations around the U.S. that bore Jewish-sounding names.

Press reports about Geoghan's murder, based on information from Conte's office, detailed how Druce slipped into Geoghan's cell during a lunch break, just before the prisoners were locked up again. After jamming the door shut, Druce allegedly bound Geoghan's hands behind his back with a t-shirt, threw him on the floor, then strangled the ex-priest with a sock, tightening the noose with a shoe and a pillow case. Druce is reported next to have jumped on Geoghan's chest from the cell's bed. Conte said that it was "definitely possible" that Druce planned to castrate Geoghan with a razor he had in his pocket.

On August 28, The Herald reported that MCLS' James Pingeon has heard from Druce and another inmate that Druce was beaten badly by prison guards after Geoghan's murder. An Associated Press report on August 27 said that Druce's attorney, John LaChance planned to offer an insanity defense, though an unidentified individual who responded to a call to his law office emphasized that that approach was only one of several being considered.

While several of Geoghan's victims have been quoted in press accounts voicing relief and even joy that the convicted pedophile has met his end, Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney who represents the 147 people who have alleged abuse by the ex-priest, told Gay City News, "Any happiness anyone felt lasted for only 30 seconds." In his view, "Geoghan should have stayed in jail and faced more criminal cases and more civil cases so that the public would have been made more aware of the wrongdoing involved here."

Garabedian acknowledged that because of the fine points of state statute, Geoghan's conviction in the fondling case, which was under appeal, will likely be overturned.

"His guilty verdict was a symbol to the victims that they were right and Geoghan and [former Cardinal] Law and [former Auxiliary Bishop] Thomas Daly were wrong," he said. "That helped the victims and it is very sad for everyone that it may now officially change."

Garabedian mentioned that two of his clients had contacted him expressing guilt over the role that their accusations may have played in Geoghan's death.

Garabedian, who negotiated the $10 million settlement with the Boston archdiocese last year on behalf of 86 abuse victims of Geoghan, is representing another 26 of his alleged victims in negotiations with the church that involve a total of 542 accusers against numerous priests. Last week, the archdiocese offered a $65 million settlement. Garabedian said he was not concerned that the dismissal of Geoghan's conviction would impair his representation of any clients.

"After investigating charges against Geoghan since 1994, I am confident of the ability the claims of my clients in civil court," he said.

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