An angry judge yesterday sentenced defrocked Roman Catholic priest John Geoghan to a maximum sentence of nine to 10 years in prison for molesting a 10-year-old boy at a community swimming pool in 1991.
“This defendant hid behind his collar and in the safety and sanctity of the Roman Catholic Church,” Judge Sandra Hamlin declared during a 25-minute explanation of how she reached her decision. “He engaged in what this court can only characterize as reprehensible and depraved behavior.”
The trial and conviction of the slight, graying former priest unleashed a pedophilia scandal that has rocked the Boston Archdiocese and the heavily Catholic population of Massachusetts. Disclosures that church officials knew about Geoghan and other allegedly abusive priests prompted many in Boston to call for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, the most senior Catholic prelate in America.
While protesters picketed Law’s residence in Boston, the uproar spread to parishes throughout New England and across the country. Hundreds of adult men and women came forth to charge that they had been abused by priests as children. In many regions, priests were removed from their duties in response.
Geoghan, 66, faces more serious criminal charges in two pending cases. More than 130 people have accused him of molesting them during his 30 years as a priest, and more than 80 civil suits from sex-abuse allegations are pending.
At least two civil suits have been filed against Law as a result of information obtained during this first case against Geoghan. While acknowledging that the church knowingly moved priests charged with pedophilia to assignments where they would have contact with children, Law has insisted repeatedly that he will not step down.
In the course of the first Geoghan trial, documents were unsealed by court order showing that the archdiocese over the past decade has settled child sex-abuse claims against at least 70 priests. The diocese reportedly has paid out more than $10 million in settlements.
As a result of the Geoghan case, the church has provided police with the names of up to 80 priests accused over the past 40 years of molesting children.
Defense attorney Geoffrey Packard wasted no time in pronouncing the sentence “draconian.”
Geoghan’s sentence exceeded state guidelines for the charges, which recommend a term of one to three years.