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Boston sex-abuse priest sentenced

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jim Smith

BOSTON — The former priest who is at the center of the sex-abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in Boston and beyond was sentenced last Thursday to 9 to 10 years in state prison for fondling a boy at a swimming pool in 1991.

John Geoghan, who is now 66, has been accused by more than 130 people of having fondled or raped them during the three decades that he served as a priest in parishes in and around Boston. His sentencing last week followed his conviction last month for indecent assault and battery, and he now faces a more serious charge of raping another boy in a trial set to begin this week.

A spokesperson for Cardinal Bernard Law and the Archdiocese of Boston, Donna Morrissey, issued a statement after last week’s sentencing. “We are pleased that justice has been served in this case and that John Geoghan will be punished accordingly,” the statement said.

But the cardinal himself is still under fire for what he has acknowledged were “tragic mistakes” in his handling of the Geoghan situation, specifically his reassigning of the priest to parishes in and around Boston after allegations had been made that he had molested altar boys and other children. Law has admitted that he made an error in judgment when he relied upon clinical evaluations of Geoghan that concluded he was unlikely to reoffend.

Following Geoghan’s conviction, the cardinal turned over to prosecutors the names of more than 80 active and former priests suspected of sexual abuse during the last four decades. One of them, Fr. George Spagnolia, who is pastor of St. Patrick’s Church in Lowell, was suspended by Law last week after a man claimed that Spagnolia had molested him on two occasions in 1971 when the alleged victim was 14.

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At a press conference Monday, Spagnolia proclaimed his innocence and blasted Law’s new “zero tolerance” policy, which Spagnolia said violated due process. “I demand, I demand due process,” he told hundreds of parishioners and supporters during the news conference held inside the church. “For my reputation, for my brother priests serving the people of God in the archdiocese, and for the people, I cannot stand by mute and allow this injustice to continue unchecked.”

Spagnolia called on the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to investigate the allegations swiftly. He expressed confidence that the charges will be proven groundless. In the meantime, Spagnolia plans to continue living in the rectory while appealing his case through the canon law process.

Spagnolia is one of 10 priests who have been removed from pastoral service during the past month after the archdiocese discovered allegations of sexual abuse against them. He is the only one of the 10 to publicly proclaim his innocence.

In remarks Sunday at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, the embattled cardinal once again apologized for his belated response to the sexual-abuse issues that now plague the church. He said that he had erroneously assumed that pedophilia was a “psycho-sexual” pathology that could be treated.

Amid ongoing calls for his resignation, Law is also receiving strong support from parishioners around the archdiocese who say that he is now taking appropriate steps to address the problem. Hundreds of Hispanic Catholics from Boston are planning to march to the cardinal’s residence this weekend in a show of solidarity and support.

Law, who was raised in Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish, is highly regarded in the Hispanic community. He has been at the forefront of social programs designed to help immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries assimilate into the Boston area.

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