A Disgraced Ex-Priest Dies; System May Share Blame

Tri-City Herald [Massachusetts]
August 31, 2003

Sorting out and classifying felons must be tedious and mentally exhausting work, but keeping homosexual pedophiles away from homophobic murderers seems a fairly basic call.

John Geoghan was a disgraced man serving a justly-deserved nine- to 10-year sentence for assault and battery of a 10-year-old boy.

It turned out to be a death sentence.

Whether through stupidity or the unpredictable pressures of an overloaded prison system, the former priest seems to have been delivered, by the state of Massachusetts, into the hands of a convicted murderer. Prisoner Joseph L. Druce is accused of strangling Geoghan in the priest's own cell in a Massachusetts maximum-security prison.

The murder and the system that permitted it to happen are both receiving -- and deserve -- prompt investigation.

The district attorney is handling the prosecution of the inmate, and Gov. Mitt Romney has appointed an independent panel to conduct an investigation of any systemic failures that might have contributed to the killing.

Geoghan was the defrocked Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting nearly 150 boys during 30 years in the ministry. His conviction was a major milestone in the church's clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Druce, who was in the same prison serving a life sentence for killing a gay man 15 years ago, has a history of rabid homophobia.

"He looked upon Father Geoghan as a prize," District Attorney John Conte told The Associated Press. He said Druce "has a long-standing phobia, it appears, toward homosexuals of any kind ... He is filled with long-standing hate."

The former priest was 68. Druce is 37.

According to prison authorities, Druce and Geoghan were assigned to the same cellblock but did not share a cell.

They say Druce must have planned the killing some time in advance, because he followed Geoghan into his cell, then used various items he brought with him to jam the cell door to keep it from reopening. While others watched from outside, he tied the former priest's hands behind his back and used stretched-out socks to strangle him.

Geoghan's crimes were terrible. But he was receiving the punishment the state said he deserved.

Massachusetts should have taken just as seriously its duty to protect Geoghan while he was in its custody.

This vicious act begs the question: How much inmate violence is there in our over-crowded prisons, and would we even know, or care, if this was not such a well-known man who was the victim?

Prison violence, the same as violence in society in general, will never be eradicated completely.

But this case demands that we as a nation appraise honestly the safety of all prisoners.

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