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Settlement Doesn't Heal Victims' Hearts

Sep 20, 2002 | The Boston Globe

They were the little boys who long ago knelt at altars with John Geoghan, the smiling cleric who took them out for ice cream and lured them upstairs to his darkened rectory bedroom.

Geoghan's victims had watched their former parish priest lose his Roman collar, his reputation, and his freedom. And yesterday, when church lawyers delivered $10 million to settle an epic civil lawsuit with 86 plaintiffs, they struggled to register the event.

There was an emptiness, a melancholy, a sense of resignation and exhaustion. But no victory. It felt, they said, more like defeat.

All those zeroes on that check will not salve their souls, they said.

''The money is not going to change my life,'' said Patrick McSorley, 28, who was molested by Geoghan at age 12. ''My heart is always going to be broken because of this. I mean these are people my family once loved. And they let something go tragically wrong.''

As they sat in the courtroom in Boston yesterday, where lawyers in dark suits and a woman in a dark robe affirmed the settlement deal, the men with sober faces bore little resemblance to the smiling young boys whose families welcomed Geoghan into their homes with a reflexive trust and a deference that today are relics of the pre-scandal church.

Mark Keane, 33, first encountered Geoghan in the mid-1980s, when he lived around the corner from the Boys & Girls Club in Waltham, where the popular priest was a frequent presence. It was there that Geoghan addressed the teenager by name and brought up things about Keane's family life that were hardly common knowledge. Geoghan, Keane said, then pushed him into a space beneath a staircase and performed oral sex on him.

''I'll go home with this money, not even enough to make me debt-free,'' Keane said. ''It will not pay for counseling that I'll undoubtedly need for the rest of my life. It will not take away my depression, anxiety, and especially will not return my spirituality and my faith or my innocence.''

McSorley said Geoghan's attacks were assaults on his dignity. And he said he felt ostracized by the church's conduct during the long-running civil lawsuit that terminated yesterday.

Still, when archdiocesan attorney Wilson Rogers Jr. extended his hand after a hearing before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney, McSorley shook it.

''Why? Because I'm a human being. That's why,'' said McSorley, who said he was molested by Geoghan after the priest took him out for ice cream in the late 1980s. After the assault, he swore the boy to secrecy.

Rogers told the victims: ''Best of luck. I hope everything goes well.'' But the church's lawyer seemed taken aback when the mother of one of Geoghan's victims confronted him with a framed photograph of her son at age 7. Nancy Greenlaw believes her son's death by drug overdose last year is directly linked to his sexual abuse by Geoghan.

After John Brian Greenlaw died last year at age 33, his mother found letters in which her son discussed his abuse by Geoghan. ''He felt like God had raped him,'' Greenlaw said.

''All the money in the world isn't going to mend my broken heart or bring my Brian back. He's gone forever because of the abuse and the church's inaction,'' she later tearfully said before cameras in a courtroom hallway.

''They should have known better,'' she said. ''They should all be ashamed of themselves. And I want them all to remember his face because this is my son that they took from me, my Brian.''

Like most of Geoghan's victims, Frank Leary stayed blocks away from the courtroom where Judge Sweeney yesterday praised the victims for their courage and told them their searing allegations against Geoghan now had the legal power of fact. ''Mr. Geoghan did in fact do what you said he did to you,'' she said.

So Leary wasn't there to hear those words from which many victims said they took some solace. Instead, he reported for work at the downtown building where he works as a carpenter. Like many of the plaintiffs, Leary said he felt worn down by the process, and disappointed by the outcome.

''I had no choice but to take the settlement,'' he said. ''I couldn't take another five years of this. It sort of went on and on and on. I just caved in. I couldn't take it.''

Leary was 13 in the spring of 1974 when Geoghan served at St. Andrew Church in Jamaica Plain. He said Geoghan invited him upstairs to his room in the rectory, where he promised to show him a stamp collection. The priest, he said, assaulted him there and then told him to pray with him. Within a week, it happened again.

After the second attack, Leary recalls an elderly priest barging into the room and telling Geoghan to stop. Leary fled and for years told no one about the assaults.

''My main goal was to secure a stable household where I can raise my kids,'' said Leary, now the father of two. ''I'm not going to have enough money to buy a house. Maybe I can get an apartment for a few years until the kids are old enough to move out. I think this is a major defeat, really.''

Leary said it is too painful for him to even think of Geoghan, now imprisoned for groping a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool in 1991.

''He's getting served breakfast, lunch, and dinner and he's all alone in isolation,'' said Leary. ''He's just not able to go home. He's not suffering too much. If they put him in general population, I would feel better about it. But I can't really think about those kinds of things. It's not easy to.

''But I do wish him the worst.''


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