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Abusive Priest Attacked, Dies In Massachusetts State Prison

By Daniel J. Wakin and Kate Zezima

The New York Times -- John J. Geoghan, the defrocked priest whose abuse of children over decades opened the door for a scandal that shook the Roman Catholic Church, was attacked and killed by another inmate in a Massachusetts state prison, a Correction Department spokeswoman said on Saturday.

“All I know is he was seriously assaulted,” the spokeswoman, Kelly Nantel, said of Geoghan, 68.

Geoghan, who was defrocked in 1998, was serving a sentence of nine to 10 years at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, a medium-security state prison about 40 miles northwest of Boston.

He was convicted in Jan. 2002 of groping a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool and sentenced to the maximum. Other criminal charges were pending, as well as civil cases involving more than 130 people who said he abused them.

His case is one of hundreds involving clergy members, but it demonstrated the degree to which the Roman Catholic hierarchy knew about such problem priests and shuttled them among parishes, showing what victims said was more concern for the church’s reputation than the safety of children.

“Abusive priests were not news particularly,” said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “But with Geoghan for the first time ever there was undeniable evidence that bishop after bishop after bishop knew and did virtually nothing.”

Geoghan’s acts of molestation date back to his first assignment as a parish priest, at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Saugus, an area north of Boston where he served from his ordination in 1962 until 1967. And they continued until the 1980s through a swath of suburban Boston parishes, in the bedrooms of his parishioners children, at his family beachfront home, while he prayed, even at a Boston Red Sox game, according to the victims.

All along, bishops and cardinals received a succession of warnings from parents and priests. He was sent for psychiatric treatment and returned to ministry.