B O S T O N, Jan. 25, 2002 -- The Catholic church went through great lengths to protect a Boston priest who was repeatedly accused of molesting children over a period of 30 years, according to recently released court documents.
Even as he was repeatedly accused of molesting children over a period of 30 years, former Catholic priest John Geoghan was treated leniently and sympathetically by the highest officials in the Boston Archdiocese, who continually re-assigned him as a parish priest, the internal church documents said.
Although they were aware of complaints and allegations that he was sexually abusing and exploiting young boys at his churches for years, archdiocese officials, including two cardinals, did not remove the priest from posts where he had close contact with young children.
The documents, which were made public by order a Massachusetts judge, are evidence in the 84 civil suits filed against him by Geoghan's alleged victims. The Boston archdiocese and Cardinal Bernard Law are named as co-defendants in some of those suits.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Law apologized for what he characterized as mistakes in judgment, saying he had relied on the judgments of doctors in their psychological evaluations of Geoghan after he underwent treatment.
"In retrospect, mistakes were made," the cardinal said, "The policy was flawed. I made a mistake in assigning John Geoghan. I have regretted that assignment. I have attempted to learn from that mistake."
Law said the archdiocese was ending its policy of not informing law enforcement authorities about complaints of sexual abuse of minors by priests. He said that would apply to past and future cases. The clergy is exempt from a Massachusetts law that requires police to be notified of allegations of child sexual abuse.
Defrocked Priest Faces Multiple Charges of Abuse
Geoghan, 66, was convicted last week of indecent sexual battery for fondling a 10-year-old boy in 1991. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 21, the day after he goes on trial for raping another child in Boston. He faces up to 10 years in prison for his conviction in Cambridge.
The court papers showed that in 1982, the mother of three boys who said they were molested by Geoghan, complained to then-Cardinal Humberto Medeiros that Geoghan had retained his position as parish priest.
Mederios wrote to the woman: "I must invoke the mercy of God … God forgives sin and sinners can be forgiven."
In 1989, Geoghan was removed from St. Julia's Parish in Weston, Mass. After further complaints of child abuse. He was treated at two clinics, deemed rehabilitated and was then re-assigned to St. Julia's.
After his reinstatement, Law wrote to him: "It is heartening to know things have gone well and that you are ready to resume your efforts with renewed zeal."
In 1998, after more allegations, Geoghan was defrocked.
"The church basically treated these issues as a matter of sin, and did not recognize them as a crime," said Thomas Groome, professor of theology and religious studies at Boston College.