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Molester priest dies in jail fight

A fellow inmate attacks the former Catholic cleric who was accused of sexually abusing more than 130 people.

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 24, 2003

BOSTON - Former priest John Geoghan, the convicted child molester whose prosecution sparked the sex abuse scandal that shook the Roman Catholic Church nationwide, died Saturday after being attacked in prison.

Preliminary indications are that Geoghan, 68, was strangled, Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said. An autopsy will be conducted Monday.

Conte said fellow inmate Joseph L. Druce, 37, attacked Geoghan shortly before noon Saturday. Geoghan died at 1:17 p.m., shortly after he was taken to UMass Memorial Health Alliance, Leominster Campus, Conte said.

Druce, who received a life sentence in 1989 for murder, armed robbery and other counts, was placed in isolation and will face murder charges in Geoghan's death, Conte said.

The attack took place shortly after lunchtime at Souza-Baranowski Correction Center, about 30 miles northwest of Boston, Department of Correction spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said. Geoghan was being held in protective custody to shield him from the general prison population, but had some contact with other inmates.

In civil lawsuits, more than 130 people have claimed Geoghan sexually abused them as children during his three decades as a priest at Boston-area parishes. He was convicted last year of indecent assault and battery for fondling a 10-year-old boy at a swimming pool.

Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for many Geoghan victims, said he was surprised and shocked by Geoghan's death.

"Many of my clients would have rather seen Father Geoghan serve out his time in jail and endure the rigors of further criminal trials, so that his pedophile acts could have been exposed further," he said.

Geoghan often targeted boys from broken homes, ingratiating himself during frequent visits or fun outings. One victim said Geoghan molested him as the two were driving home from getting an ice cream cone. Others said Geoghan molested them after visiting their rooms to tuck them in, sometimes while whispering prayers.

The church sex abuse scandal, which has had repercussions worldwide, broke in early 2002 with revelations that the Boston Archdiocese had shuttled Geoghan from parish to parish despite warnings about his behavior.

The scandal mushroomed after a judge ordered the release of archdiocese files involving dozens of priests, showing repeated examples of the archdiocese shipping priests to different parishes when allegations arose.

David Clohessy, national director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said what made Geoghan's case more than just a single case about a single predator was that it revealed the corruption in the church.

"In many respects, Geoghan is not the pivotal figure, it's the people who he wounded and still came forward and the bishops who enabled him but were finally exposed," he said.

Geoghan was ousted from the priesthood in 1998 at the urging of Cardinal Bernard Law. Geoghan's case was one of several that led to Law resigning in December over his mishandling of abuse cases.

Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, offered prayers for Geoghan's family.

"Upon hearing the news of the tragic death of John Geoghan, the Archdiocese of Boston offers prayer for the repose of John's soul, and extends its prayers in consolation to his beloved sister, Kathy, at this time of personal loss," he said.

Geoghan was convicted in January 2002 for grabbing the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy in 1991 in the first of three criminal cases against him. He was sentenced to nine to 10 years in prison.

Most of the allegations against Geoghan did not lead to criminal charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

In September 2002, the archdiocese settled with 86 Geoghan victims for $10-million, after pulling out of an earlier settlement of about $30-million.

One of those victims, Ralph DelVecchio, said Geoghan deserved prison but didn't deserve to be killed.

"I wouldn't say he deserved to die, you know?" DelVecchio said. "He was in jail - that's where I believed he should be."


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