Passing the Buck

By Eileen McNamara
Boston Globe
July 29, 2001

IT IS THE RAPE VICTIMS' FAULT.  IT IS THE RAPE VICTIMS' LAWYER'S FAULT.  IT IS THE PSYCHIATRISTS' FAULT.  IT IS THE ANTI-CATHOLIC MEDIA'S FAULT.  What one of the worst cases of sexual misconduct in the history of the Boston Archdiocese decidedly is not is Cardinal Bernard Law's fault. At least that is what Law and his lawyer would have us believe.

If the Rev. John Geoghan raped dozens of boys after 1984 when Law admits he was warned that the priest had molested children, blame the children for standing in harm's way, blame the psychiatrists for failing to cure a miscreant priest.

If the faithful suspect the Catholic Church of complicity in the acts of a serial child molester, blame the plaintiffs' lawyer for garnering headlines at the cardinal's expense, blame the media for carrying these attacks against the church.

Unfortunately for Law, the blame game played last week by his attorney, Wilson D. Rogers Jr., only bolsters the case against the cardinal. Law is a defendant in a civil suit brought by 25 plaintiffs who were children when Geoghan allegedly raped them in parishes to which Law transferred him between 1985 and 1993. Geoghan retired in 1993 after a 28-year career in which he is alleged to have molested more than 100 children. He was not defrocked until 1998, two full years after the charges became public. He faces a criminal trial in September.

In a scathing rebuke of the plaintiffs' lawyer on the front page of The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, Rogers writes that Mitchell Garabedian "has never once mentioned that each assignment of John Geoghan, subsequent to the first complaint of sexual misconduct, was incident to an independent medical evaluation advising that such assignment was appropriate and safe."

Which "first" complaint was that? The one Law received in September 1984 about the priest's alleged assault on seven children? Or the ones Geoghan's immediate superiors received from parents that, court documents say, date back to 1973 and that, some parents say, go back a full decade further?

Which "independent medical evaluation?" Superior Court Judge James McHugh has sealed all discovery documents, including Geoghan's medical records, in the civil case. But one therapist who has worked at a treatment center for pedophile priests, and asked not to be named, said Geoghan was admitted more than once to more than one such facility. Despite Law's claim in an editorial in The Pilot that the church "has been on a learning curve with regard to the sexual abuse of minors," the church has been using several psychiatric centers to treat pedophile priests for at least 30 years.

Which is it? Either the church was ignorant of the kind of sexual abuse with which Geoghan is charged, or it knew enough to send its priests to treatment centers to try to curb their pedophilia. If the latter is true, why didn't Law err on the side of caution and assign Geoghan to duties other than the parish work that put him in daily contact with children? And why won't he tell his flock the extent of his supervision of Geoghan after he sent him back to work? How could there have been at least 25 more victims after 1984 if the cardinal and his agents were being vigilant in efforts to protect children from a suspected sexual predator?

Judge McHugh's confidentiality order applies to all documents in the civil case. The danger is that if the church settles before trial - projected to be at least six months away - depositions of members of the church hierarchy, including Law and his closest advisers, will never see the light of day. The result will be that men who could be responsible for the coverup of criminal conduct will never be brought to account.

Law has been lucky so far. Judicial concern for fairness has dovetailed nicely with his penchant for secrecy. Only the resolve of the plaintiffs to see this suit through to the end can shine a light into corners of the church that the cardinal would prefer to keep forever in shadow.

Eileen McNamara can be reached by e-mail at


















Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.