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Former Catholic Priest Sentenced

Aired February 21, 2002 - 10:54   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are now looking at a Massachusetts courtroom where the judge is about to hand down the sentence against John Geoghan, the defrocked priest who is being accused of molesting some 130 boys. He's standing trial in this case for one of those boys.

JUDGE SANDRA HAMLIN, MIDDLESEX SUPERIOR COURT: This defendant is not going to be punished for other priests or for what the church may or may not have done. The court specifically states that the sentence is imposed today on the defendant is for his conduct, for his actions, for his character issues, and for his situation. And it's in no way -- and I state this unequivocally -- it is in no way an emotional response by this court to the publicity surround this issue.

Indeed, there is ample evidence before the court concerning this particular defendant, upon which the court can arrive at a just punishment. I want to say from the outset at the reading of the various case law. The section of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) memoranda, which goes from page four up until the time of the admission, 4-11, which concerns misconduct, is not going to be considered by the court. The court, however, is going to consider the hearing whether the defendant has admitted that he did molest other boys for whom he was not charged.

Now, counsel mentioned (UNINTELLIGIBLE) gave a recommendation, mentioned from the guidelines. And they say at the outset, the guidelines of that are just guidelines. Every case has things the court has to consider. If all that was needed for someone to come out and impose guidelines while the court pays deference in issue of guidelines the court sustains the fact before it. And were that not the case, I might as well (UNINTELLIGIBLE) or not, a judge who was supposed to exercise some discretion of judgment depends on what is before the court.

There are various factors to be considered in sentencing. A judge's sentence should reflect a careful assessment of several goals, punishment, deterrence, protection of the public and rehabilitation.

A judge may consider many factors which could not be involved in the trial, including (UNINTELLIGIBLE), hearsay, information of a defendant's character, behavior or background. It must be reliable evidence.

The court has considered a number of different areas, and first and foremost is the nature of circumstances of the crime before the court. And it has never been easy, or clear, or even appropriate to characterize the level of a particular case. However, I am specifically going to say that I had considered the nature and circumstances of this crime before the court. I had the opportunity to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the victim when he testified in court, before us.

On January 18th, 2002, this defendant, after jury trial, was convicted of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14. Now this statute provides that anyone who convicted for this convince shall be punished imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 10 years, or a jail or house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years.

Now as counsel pointed out, because this crime take place in 1991, the old sentencing guidelines apply. And what this means is it's a recommendation of nine to 10 years in a state's prison will result in the defendant being eligible for parole in six years, which is two thirds of the minimum. That's not the sentencing instruction today. Today, nine to 10, the defendant would serve nine.

But under the old guidelines, which are in effect because of the date of this offense, it will be six years. If he were to be sentenced to the house of corrections, you will serve half the time of that sentence.

Now, at the time of this offense, the victim was a vulnerable 10- year-old boy who lived with his mother and younger sister in a housing structure (ph) in Boston. As he testified, he never knew his father. The family didn't have a car to get to the Boston Boys and Girls Club. The victim and his family had to walk (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for 15 minutes each way.

As he testified, he was trying to better himself. And to that end, he went to the Boston Boys and Girls Club for after-school activities, swimming, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

On the day of the crimes, the evidence indicated he was swimming in the pool and trying to teach himself how to dive, because his friends knew how to dive. His mother had not helped him because she had never learned to swim and, therefore, their younger sister inside of the pool.

As the victim was attempting dives, the defendant approached him in the deep end of the pool and offered to help him learn how to dive. The young boy immediately recognized him as the priest who visited the Boston projects where he lived.

At the time of this offense, the defendant was assigned to St. Peter's (ph) parish in Westwood. The boy accepted the offer, and shortly thereafter, the defendant under the guise of helping the boy learn how to dive, reached inside of the boy's shorts and squeezed his buttocks.

The victim immediately reacted, pushed the defendant away, got out of the pool, told him mother that they had to leave. Now I had asked the court reporter to get for me what -- some of the things that he'd said, so I could quote them.

One, he said, after relaying this at the trial -- quote -- "It was kind of like (ph) bells went off made me really nervous." He was so upset he didn't bother to change. He pulled pants up over his wet bathing suit and left with his head down.

As he and his family with walking home, his mother noticed that his pants were wet. And on the walk home, he told her what had happened. He begged her not to do anything, saying -- and I'm quoting again, "I was embarrassed. I was nervous. I didn't really know what could have happened had something been done."

And this court says that in the normal feeling that would be any inherent in any young child having such an action done to him was exacerbated by the fact that he knew that this man was a priest. He told his mother never bother return to the Boston Boys and Girls Club again.

It is significant to this court that the time of this crime, as well as the other admissions that he made, he was in fact a Roman- Catholic priest. He was in a position of trust, and authority and violating that by sexually molesting, in this case, a vulnerable 10- year-old boy at a place where the boy had felt safe and should have been safe.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) The defense made mention of this counsel. The defendant described the victim as -- quote -- "a skilled actor" -- quote, unquote -- enticed by a lawyer who has received $3 million.

Obviously, the jury, after assessing his credibility, felt otherwise and found this defendant guilty. It is of significance to the court that an examination of the numerous evaluations of this defendant showed that this was not the first time that he had been behaved in this type of behavior. And I am reporting to the things that he has admitted. Prior evaluations of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reported by Schwarz (ph) for allegations of sexual involvement with young boys indicate that he has admitted to this sexual activity as long as 30 years ago.

One of the reports includes that he has had a longstanding and continuing problem with sexual attraction to preadolescent males. This defendant has been diagnosed as a pedophile, and that diagnosis stands today.

In examining his activity, it's quite clear the defendant has a particular mode of operation. He would use his office, and his position as a Catholic priest and his religion to target numerous, young vulnerable preadolescent boys, who didn't have a father figure, who were underprivileged economically and otherwise, some live in houses with single parents, some of which mothers reached out to this defendant and sought out help in an attempt to get a father figure for their children. He used that situation to molest, and it's an indication of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at that time.

Molestation was not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) confined to the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It took place sometimes in the rectory, or as This particular case, it often involved the boys and girls club. This defendant hid behind his collar within the safety and sanctity of the Roman-Catholic church. He engaged in what this court (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a reprehensible and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) behavior.

Now on the issue of the activities that he's admitted, there is a variety of evidence of prior sexual activity with preadolescent boys. It is worthy of note that admissions are made to two priest in 1980 and then a second one to report, and also in a critique in the defendant's own handwriting that he made of sexual (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in '95 (ph) to a boy.

He has had admitted on a number of different occasions, as far as the first seven boys are concerned, that he sexually molested seven boys, who were brothers and cousins, in the same family, ages 4-12, from 1977-1980. This was done repeatedly, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Now (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with this activity as he walks (ph) by then by two priest, he admitted the activity, but said words to the effect that he did not feel it was serious or a pastoral problem.

In addition, in 1989, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to a forum, he said to the doctor, that in this instance involving seven boys, the first instance of fondling occurred at the orientation (ph) of one of the boys.

This court does not wish to get into the details about the activity. However, in order to be clear to all what the court is considering the activity that this defendant said he didn't feel was serious or a pastoral problem involved such thins as rubbing the boy's backs, caressing their buttocks and genitals, masturbating them until they ejaculated, in one instance, putting the boy's penis in his mouth and proposing oral set. That's the first set of admissions.

There is another inappropriate set where he admitted inappropriate activity with four young, preadolescent males in the early 1960s, when was at St. Luke's Church. He admitted that this lasted for 2 1/2 years. Again, the motive of operation is the same. His relationship with the family. It was an absent of father, and mother and the children were reaching out for support. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He made this house a home away from home. He had the children sit on lap, and he would become sexually aroused. He stated that he would deliberately fondle these children over their clothing.

We'll focus on the three older boys, who were nine, 10 and 11, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) touched a seven year old (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) detailed those so that it is clear the basis for this court's decision on the sentencing is based on the case before the court, the admissions of this defendant, and I would say that particularly troubling, and of great concern to the court is that the defendant's statements, where he blames the victim and minimizes his conduct. It's the victim who initiated it. It's the victims that (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He has a total lack of concern for the damage his sexual molestation may have done to these young preadolescent boys that it was his duty to protect, not only as a human being, but as a priest. The situation is aggravated by the fact that he is a priest, that he used his position of trust to parlay his position. Quoting from one the reports concerning (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is the defendant's mindset he blamed the victim. And this is from one of the reports to a psychologist in 1996.

Quote: "With regard to the sexual misconduct, father John initially expressed a limited sense of regret. However, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of dismissal in his dismissal of the events. This was communicated through his rationalization of the boys in which he was involved came from dysfunctional homes, and that their behavior, in effect, should abused him (ph). (UNINTELLIGIBLE) left the impression that father John had a limited understanding of his impact on others, including the boys who trust him."

And further, in another report, both episodes, according to another issue of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), consisting of fondling and sexual touching over clothing. There was no disrobing or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for either contact. This sexual issue activity occurred in the content of his involvement were administered to the families of these children. These actions were part of an ongoing relationship with the children and their families. Reverend Geoghan repeatedly pointed out that these families were dysfunctional or troubled, and that this circumstance (UNINTELLIGIBLE) his misconduct. And they say the children were just so affectionate of their (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and their actions of affection.

He also stated, children from middle class family never acted like that toward me, so I never felt abused. He further pointed out misconduct occurred during private sexual exploration in this country. When he was confronted about prior admissions of sexual misconduct, the fruits and apples of which the court has just detailed, by the group's former doctor, he criticized the doctor's (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and said the reports were absolutely false.

A fair reading that this court has on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) report is that instead of progression or some sort of understanding of his conduct, and having a desire to do something about it, so that he doesn't continue to be a danger to young boys, he has, in fact, regressed to the point of total denial of sexual activities. He admitted on numerous prior occasions to people and reports in his own handwriting. He absolutely denies he has a problem, and he has consistently refused to address them. He refuses to accept any responsibility for his sexual molestation. And it's noteworthy that in response to complaints of sexually molested preadolescent children, the church sent him for assessment and treatment several times in the 1980s and the 1990s. He went only because he was forced to. And because he said he felt -- and this was his words -- "This was an involuntary commitment."

During the evaluation at (UNINTELLIGIBLE), when he was asked what kind of help he needed, he said -- I quote -- "The only help I need is to get out of the joint." He doesn't believe he needs any sex- offender treatment, and he refused to participate in. He was asked if he was released to the community what he would do. He said he would go to his meetings and kiss the ground. That's how he would respond if he was ordered to extend sex offender treatment. He said -- and I quote -- "I wouldn't thank god as much for his release, and would be" -- quote -- "terribly offended at the recommendation."

This court has a good number of expert opinions from psychologist. However, I don't think I need an expert opinion to tell me if I had no expert opinion, just based on conduct, that this defendant is serious danger to any preadolescent adult who comes in contact with him.

It's worth noting that the first order of the court states that he would need -- quote -- "stringent, internal risk-management plans to monitor his risk of continuing his pedophile behavior for prepubescent boys."

The boys (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They were helpless. They were unprotected. The defendant felt that no one would believe him. As he sought to charge, no one would believe the victims in this case.

Religion should be a solace to people and a refuge. The church should be a safe place for those who wish to go there. And those in a position of trust, as this defendant was, have to be held for a higher standard.

In sum, this defendant is a serious threat to every young boy who may had the misfortune to have been in contact him. He accepts no responsibility for obscene and immoral conduct, and intends to do nothing about it. He's without remorse for harm that he may have done to the young, vulnerable boys, and certainly this court feels rehabilitation is not something in this man's immediate future.

The defense records made to the good works that the defendant may have done as a priest, and that may be so. But a man's reputation doesn't exist like that. It's a sum total of all he is, and all he does, the way he lives. And being a good priest in some areas doesn't excuse molesting young boys under the guise of religion.

It's this court's responsibility, and I do so without emotion and without vindictiveness, I do it solely based upon the facts before me. It's this court's responsibility to punish the defendant for his crime against this victim, the other victims he's admitted to molesting, and not to punish them, but you consider the other victims he's admitted molesting. And certainly to protect the public from this defendant, who is believed a pedophile. And this court has no doubt that he is dangerous, and it's the responsibility of this court not only to punish for what he has done, but to protect the public from further activities, and for that -- for all those reasons -- and I don't say that everything that I have said is all-inclusive.

However, I do feel that under the circumstances of this case, because of all the swirling around it, it is necessary for it to be very clear on the record, that this defendant is being punished for what he did, and not what anyone else did. He's being punished for his own conduct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Geoghan, please rise. On indictment number 991566, indictment 001, you will (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the sentence the court has ordered against you. The court has (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You are to be punished by confinement in Massachusetts state prison for a term of not more than 10 years, not less than nine years. Six years of this sentence is to be served. The balance is suspended for the rest of your life, and it's served (ph) by the court that following your release, you be placed on lifetime probation.

Conditions of the set probation, number one, you have no contact with directly or indirectly, or by any third party with any child under the age of 16 years. Two, that you submit to sexual evaluation and treatment as ordered by the probation department. Three, you hereby notified that your failure to comply with those terms of your probation may result in your probation being revoked and your being returned to state prison to finish the rest of this sentence.

Judge Hamlin will retain jurisdiction of this matter. Sixteen dollar witness fees this day excessed (ph) will be deducted from your campaign fund. That's their restitution (ph).

Cost of counsel and probation fees are this day raised (ph) by the court.

You have the right to the appellate division of the superior court within 10 days for review of the sentencing imposed this day, and from verdicts recorded this day to the appeals court or supreme judicial court. This must be done within 30 days. Thirty-five days (UNINTELLIGIBLE) credit (ph), (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to accompany him to said institution, and if you stand committed for those six years, sir.

Wait for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Geoghan, please be seated temporarily.

Mr. Packard (ph) has file a motion for a stay of execution of sentence, the commonwealth office of issuance (ph).

HARRIS: And as many have expected, Judge Sandra Hamlin, in this case of John Geoghan, who has been found guilty of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14 has essentially had the book thrown at him. He has got the stiffest sentence allowed under the law, at least under the law that was in place at the time of his crime, at the time of the commission of his crime.

The judge did say that the sentencing guidelines have changed since then, but she had to sentence John Geoghan according to the law at the time of the crime that he committed, and she says that the best she can do is 10 years in prison, no less than nine, and that he is to get six years, after six years, he is to be considered for parole. If he does get parole, he has is not to have contact with anyone under the age of 16 while he is out. The judge had some harsh words for the former priest. She said that he hid behind his collar and she found that reprehensible.

She also says that the circumstances of the past events that he was involved in proved to her that he had a total lack of concern for the damage to the lives of others that he had caused, and that he was blaming the victims for initiating these actions for which he has been found guilty, and that he has been denying all along that he had the problem. She also said being a good priest in some areas doesn't excuse the molestation of boys. Very harsh words from that judge, and a harsh sentence now being faced by John Geoghan.




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