John Geoghan

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John Geoghan
BornJune 4, 1935
DiedAugust 23, 2003(2003-08-23) (aged 68)
OccupationFormer priest
Known forBoston clergy sex abuse scandal
Criminal charge(s)Indecent assault and battery
Criminal penalty9 to 10 years in prison
Ecclesiastical career
ChurchRoman Catholic Church
Congregations served
Various, Archdiocese of Boston

John Joseph Geoghan (/ˈɡɡən/; June 4, 1935 – August 23, 2003) was an American serial child rapist and Roman Catholic priest assigned to parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston in Massachusetts. He was re-assigned to several parish posts involving interaction with children, even after receiving treatment for pedophilia.

The investigation and prosecution of Geoghan was one of numerous cases of priests accused of child sexual abuse in a scandal that rocked the archdiocese in the 1990s and 2000s. It led to the resignation of Boston's archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, on December 13, 2002. Law lost the support of fellow clergy and the laity after it was shown that his response to allegations against dozens of priests consisted of assigning them to different parishes, thus allowing sexual abuse of additional children to take place.[1]

Geoghan was convicted of sexual abuse, laicized, and sentenced in 2002 to nine to ten years in Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, a maximum security prison. Less than a year later, he was murdered there by Joseph Druce, an inmate serving a life sentence. The Boston Globe's coverage of Geoghan's abuse opened the door for public knowledge of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston[2] and Catholic churches nationwide in general. This coverage is a key plot element of Tom McCarthy's film Spotlight in 2015.


Born in Boston in 1935 to an Irish Catholic family, John Joseph Geoghan attended local parochial schools. Intending to become a priest, he attended Cardinal O'Connell Seminary. An assessment in 1954 noted him as "markedly immature."[3] He graduated in 1962 and was ordained.

On February 13, 1962, Geoghan was assigned as an assistant pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Saugus, Massachusetts.[4][3] That December, he successfully talked a man out of committing suicide from jumping off the Mystic River Bridge.[5] While Geoghan was assigned to Blessed Sacrament, Anthony Benzevich allegedly told church officials that the junior priest was observed bringing boys into his bedroom. Benzevich would later deny this allegation. In 1998, Benzevich told reporters he was branded as a troublemaker for reporting Geoghan, and that church officials hinted that he might be sent to Peru if he persisted.[6] In 1995 Geoghan admitted to having molested four boys during his tenure at Blessed Sacrament.[3]

Geoghan was assigned to St. Bernard's Parish in Concord starting on September 22, 1966. He was transferred after seven months there; church records offered no explanation for his reassignment.[3] On April 20, 1967, Geoghan was assigned to St. Paul's Parish in Hingham. Around 1968, a man complained to church authorities that he had caught Geoghan molesting his son. As a result, Geoghan was sent to the Seton Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, for treatment for his pedophilia. In the early 1970s, parishioner Joanne Mueller accused Geoghan of molesting her four young sons. Mueller has said that she informed Paul E. Miceli and he asked her to keep quiet. Miceli disputes her account. The church later reached a settlement with Mueller.[3]

Geoghan's next assignment was at St. Andrew's Parish in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood, starting on June 4, 1974. On February 9, 1980, John E. Thomas told Bishop Thomas Vose Daily that Geoghan admitted to molesting seven boys. Daily called Geoghan and told him to go home. Geoghan admitted to the abuse, but said that he did "not feel it serious or a pastoral problem."[3] He was placed on sick leave three days later and ordered by Cardinal Humberto Medeiros to undergo counseling. Under the care of doctors Robert Mullins and John H. Brennan, Geoghan underwent psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.[3]

On February 25, 1981, Geoghan returned to pastoral work at St. Brendan's Parish in Dorchester. While there, he allegedly raped and fondled a boy. In 1982 the family of seven of Geoghan's victims complained to Bishop Daily that Geoghan had arranged to meet one of his victims at an ice cream shop in Jamaica Plain and was at the time in the company of another boy. On September 18, 1984, Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, the new Archbishop of Boston, removed Geoghan from the parish after complaints that he was molesting children.[3]

Law assigned Geoghan to St. Julia's Parish in Weston on November 13, 1984. He was put in charge of three youth groups, including altar boys. On December 7, auxiliary bishop John Michael D'Arcy wrote to Law complaining about Geoghan's assignment to St. Julia's because of his "history of homosexual involvement with young boys".[3] That same month, Mullins wrote that Geoghan had "fully recovered", and Brennan stated that there was no need for restrictions on his work as a priest.[3]

In 1986 new allegations of sexual abuse were made against Geoghan. From April 3–12, 1989, he was treated at the Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he was diagnosed with homosexual pedophilia. On April 28, 1989, auxiliary bishop Robert Joseph Banks ordered Geoghan to leave the ministry.[3] Instead, Geoghan was placed on sick leave on May 24 and, between August 10 to November 4, was treated at The Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut. Upon his release, Geoghan was described as "moderately improved". Institute officials recommended that he return to assignment. Banks was concerned about the conclusions of the institute's discharge summary. On December 13, the institute sent Banks a letter explaining the discharge summary, stating that, "The probability he [Geoghan] would act out again is quite low. However, we could not guarantee that it would not re-occur."[3]

On November 28, 1990, Banks recommended that Geoghan return to the parish, but left the decision up to Cardinal Law and another bishop. On October 23, 1991, the church received a complaint about Geoghan "proselytizing" with a boy at a pool.[3]


In 1993, Geoghan retired from active ministry at the age of 58. He moved into the Regina Cleri residence for retired priests. Three years later, after more allegations surfaced against him, he spent several months in therapy in the Southdown Institute in Ontario, Canada.[3]

Sexual abuse charges[edit]

Over a 30-year career in six parishes, Geoghan was accused of sexual abuse involving more than 130 boys.[7] He was prosecuted in Cambridge for charges of molestation that took place in 1991. Geoghan was defrocked in 1998 by Pope John Paul II. He was found guilty on February 21, 2002 of indecent assault and battery for grabbing the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club in 1991, and was sentenced to nine to ten years in prison.[8]

After initially agreeing to a $30 million settlement with 86 of Geoghan's victims, the Boston archdiocese pulled out of it, finally settling with them for $10 million.[9]

Boston's Suffolk County prosecuted Geoghan in two other sexual abuse cases. One case was dropped without prejudice when the victim decided not to testify. In the second case, a judge dismissed conviction of Geoghan in two rapes, after hotly contested arguments, because the statute of limitations had run out.[10] The Commonwealth's appeal of that ruling was active at the time of Geoghan's death. Remaining charges of indecent assault in that case were still pending prosecution.


On August 23, 2003, while in protective custody at the maximum security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Geoghan was strangled and stomped to death in his cell by inmate Joseph Druce. The latter was serving a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for killing a man who allegedly made sexual advances toward him. Druce was said to have planned the murder of Geoghan for more than a month, considering him a "prize".[11] The press raised questions about prison officials' judgment in placing these two men in the same unit for protective custody. In addition, they had been warned by an inmate that Druce intended to attack Geoghan.[12]

A Worcester jury found Druce guilty of first-degree murder on January 25, 2006, after the jury rejected his insanity defense. Druce was sentenced a second time to life in prison without the possibility of parole.[13]

A video, which shows correction officers trying to open Geoghan's prison door, which Druce had wedged shut when he attacked the former priest, was released on YouTube in June 2007.[14][15] Officials claim not to know how the video, recorded by the prison surveillance systems, was made public.

Geoghan was buried in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts, on August 28, 2003.[16]

Effects of the Geoghan case on other church leaders[edit]

Robert Joseph Banks[edit]

Robert Joseph Banks, when an auxiliary bishop in Boston, had recommended in 1989 that Geoghan remain as a parish priest despite receiving an assessment that he would likely continue to act on his pedophilia. Banks was appointed bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay in 1990.[17] He retired in 2003, having reached the church's mandatory retirement age of 75 years.[17] Banks remains Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay.

John Michael D'Arcy[edit]

John Michael D'Arcy, who had written an unheeded letter of warning to Cardinal Law about Geoghan's behavior, was transferred from Boston to Indiana on February 26, 1985, and ended his career as bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne–South Bend.[18] D'Arcy retired in 2009 and died in 2013.[19]

Bernard Francis Law[edit]

After Cardinal Law resigned as Boston's archbishop in December 2002, he relocated to Rome in 2004 where he served as archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome.[20] It was "commonly believed that he would live out his retirement in Rome" after he retired at age 80 in 2011.[21] Law died in Rome on December 20, 2017.[22]

In popular culture[edit]

Canadian punk-rock band Billy Talent's song "Devil in a Midnight Mass" from the album Billy Talent II (2006) addresses Geoghan's story from a victim's perspective.[23]

In the opening moments of the 2015 film Spotlight, the film begins with an evening in 1976 at a Boston Police station, where two policemen are discussing the arrest of Fr. John Geoghan for child molestation. A high-ranking cleric (likely Cardinal Bernard Law), talks to the mother of the children. The Assistant District Attorney then enters the precinct and tells the policemen not to let the press get wind of what has happened. The arrest is hushed up, and Geoghan is released.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paulson, Michael (December 14, 2002). "A church seeks healing". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 26 November 2009.
  2. ^ Rezendes, Michael (January 6, 2002). "Spotlight Church abuse report: Church allowed abuse by priest for years". The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Geoghan's troubled history". The Boston Globe. 2004. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
  4. ^ "Timeline: Geoghan's career history". Boston Herald. January 25, 2002.
  5. ^ "Saugus Curate Foils Leap Off Mystic Bridge". The Boston Globe. December 26, 1962.
  6. ^ Haley, Colin C.; Klemovich, Della (June 4, 1998). "Former priest says he warned of acts against children". The Patriot Ledger. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  7. ^ "The John Geoghgan Case". The Boston Globe. Retrieved November 26, 2009.
  8. ^ Ferdin, Pamela (February 22, 2002). "Ex-Priest Gets Maximum Sentence in Abuse Case". The Washington Post. Washington D.C.
  9. ^ Robinson, Walter V.; Rezendes, Michael (September 19, 2002). "Geoghan victims agree to $10m settlement". The Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC. Retrieved December 20, 2015.
  10. ^ Burge, Kathleen (September 27, 2003). "Geoghan ruling sparks anger: Alleged victims protest erasure of conviction". The Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Globe Media Partners, L.P. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  11. ^ "Prosecutor: Inmate considered Geoghan 'a prize'". CNN. Atlanta, Georgia: Turner Broadcasting Systems. August 26, 2003. Retrieved March 23, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ Butterfield, Fox (August 26, 2003). "Long Planning Is Cited in Death Of Former Priest". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  13. ^ McElhenny, John (26 August 2003). "Alleged Geoghan killer led troubled life, records show". The Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Globe Media Partners, L.P. Retrieved 13 November 2015.
  14. ^ "Prison kill scene gets on YouTube". New York Daily News. New York City: Tribune Publishing. July 8, 2007. Archived from the original on September 18, 2008.
  15. ^ "Joseph Druce #1". YouTube. June 12, 2007. Retrieved October 29, 2010.
  16. ^ Redd, C. Kalimah (August 29, 2003). "Former priest slain in prison is buried in Brookline cemetery". The Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Globe Media Partners, L.P. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  17. ^ a b "Green Bay's Bishop Banks submits letter of resignation". The Journal Times. Wire-Data Stream. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  18. ^ Lawrence, J. M. (5 February 2013). "Bishop John M. D'Arcy, 80; warned against transfer of pedophile to new parish". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  19. ^ "Bishop Emeritus John D'Arcy dies at 80; he warned about sex abuse". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  20. ^ Hanna, Jason; Gallagher, Delia. "Cardinal Bernard Law to be honored Thursday with Vatican funeral". CNN. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  21. ^ Arsenault, Mark (November 22, 2011). "Law retires from post in Rome". The Boston Globe. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  22. ^ "Cardinal Bernard Law Fast Facts". CNN. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  23. ^ "Billy Talent Interviews - Devil In A Midnight Mass (Ben & Aaron)". YouTube. Retrieved July 7, 2019.

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