A jury in Massachusetts Friday convicted a former Roman Catholic priest of a single criminal charge of indecent assault and battery in a case in which church officials were publicly criticized for transferring him among Boston-area parishes knowing he was an alleged pedophile.
Bail was immediately revoked for John Geoghan, 66, who could be ordered to prison for up to 10 years when sentenced next Wednesday. He also faces two more criminal trials on similar child sex abuse charges and more than 80 civil suits.
The Middlesex Superior Court jury of 10 men and four women deliberated over two days before returning the guilty verdict against Geoghan, who was accused of squeezing the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy a decade ago in a Waltham, Mass., swimming pool.
Geoghan’s defense alleged the boy, now a 20-year-old college student, and his mother brought the criminal charge against the priest in order to improve chances of getting more money out of the Archdiocese of Boston in a civil suit.
More than 130 civil suits have been filed against Geoghan, alleging acts of child sexual abuse that occurred over three decades in various parishes. The archdiocese has already settled some 50 civil suits against him for more than $10 million.
The jury apparently rejected Geoghan’s contention he was only giving the boy a boost with his hand as the youngster was getting out of the deep end of the pool at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club in Waltham.
Five witnesses including the student and his mother testified during the two-day trial. The defense called no witnesses.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Geoffrey Packard had told the jury the prosecution presented no evidence that Geoghan molested the boy, other than the boy’s own statement of being touched.
Assistant District Attorney Lynn Rooney, however, argued that if the boy and his mother were really motivated by money, they would have come up with a more dramatic story.
On the stand Wednesday, the student alleged Geoghan inappropriately touched him when he was a 10-year-old boy practicing diving.
“I felt a hand going up the back of my leg,” he testified, “and my butt was squeezed.”
He said that he “got really nervous” and, “I got away as fast as possible,” going over to his mother to tell her what happened.
Packard, however, contended that Geoghan did not molest the boy, but was simply helping to boost him up as he was getting out of the pool.
This was the first of three criminal trials for Geoghan, who was removed as a priest by the archdiocese in 1998. A second trial is scheduled for Feb. 20 in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, where he faces charges of repeatedly raping a 7-year-old boy in the early 1980s. If convicted there, he could be sentenced to life.
A third trial on charges he molested a 10-year-old Weymouth boy in the mid 1990s has yet to be scheduled.
The allegations against Geoghan prompted Boston Archdiocese Cardinal Bernard Law to apologize, 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.
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.