Over three decades, John J. Geoghan allegedly molested more than 130 children while serving as a priest at several Roman Catholic parishes in and around Boston.
On Monday, the 66-year-old defrocked priest faced the first of three criminal trials that could result in his spending the rest of his life in prison.
In the first trial in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge, Mass., Geoghan is charged with one count of indecent assault and battery on an 11-year-old boy he allegedly fondled at the Boys & Girls Club in Waltham in 1991. Jury selection for that trial began Monday.
The second trial is scheduled to start Feb. 20 in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, where he faces charges of repeatedly raping a 7-year-old boy over a year in the early 1980s.
No date has been set for the third trial on charges he molested a 10-year-old Weymouth boy in the mid 1990s.
He also is named in more than 80 pending civil suits involving allegations he molested more than 130 children before he was removed as a priest in 1998.
On the eve of the first trial, Boston Archdiocese Cardinal Bernard F. Law repeated his apology for sexual abuse by members of the clergy, saying his decision to reassign Geoghan to a parish in suburban Weston in 1984, knowing he was a pedophile was “tragically incorrect.”
“To victims and their families, I reiterate again my profound apology, and I also reiterate the hope that the church’s evolving response to that problem … might offer some measure of comfort,” Law said at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.
He said the archdiocese has a policy of “zero tolerance” regarding priests known as having been responsible for such sexual abuse and all church workers are now required to report any type of abuse to state officials.
Law said “there are no clergy known to us to have been responsible for such abuse of minors holding any position in service to the archdiocese.”
The first of more than 100 civil suits was filed against Geoghan in 1996. Since then the archdiocese has settled some 50 civil suits against him for more than $10 million.
Since Geoghan has been declared indigent, lawyers involved in the civil suits hope to be able to collect money from the archdiocese, costing the archdiocese even millions more.
The criminal statute of limitations has expired for many of the earlier alleged molestations.
In his apology last Wednesday, Law said: “The trust that was broken in the lives of those suffering the effects of abuse is a trust which was built upon the selfless lives of thousands of priests who have served faithfully and well in this archdiocese throughout its history.
“One of the sad consequences of these instances of abuse — a consequence which pales in comparison to the harm done to these most innocent of victims — is that they have placed under a cloud of suspicion the faithful priests who serve the mission of the church with integrity,” he said.
The Geoghan case is the most serious in Massachusetts since 1992 when similar charges were brought against a priest in the Fall River diocese, the Rev. James R. Porter. He is now serving an 18- to 20-year sentence for sexually assaulting 29 children.