- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

BOSTON (AP) — Former priest John Geoghan, a convicted child molester who became a central figure in the Catholic church’s sex-abuse scandal, died yesterday after another inmate attacked him in prison, a state corrections spokeswoman said.

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

Mr. Conte said fellow inmate Joseph L. Druce, 37, attacked Geoghan shortly before noon yesterday . Geoghan died at 1:17 p.m., shortly after he was taken to UMass Memorial Health Alliance, Leominster Campus, Mr. 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, Mr. Conte said. In 2001, Druce was charged with mailing a threatening letter containing white powder and indicating it was contaminated with anthrax.

The incident remains under investigation.

In civil lawsuits, more than 130 people have said 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.

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.

The church 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 archdiocesan files involving dozens of priests, showing repeated examples of the archdiocese’s shipping priests to different parishes when accusations arose.

The 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 last year of indecent assault and battery for fondling 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 accusations 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.” Mr. DelVecchio said. “He was in jail. That’s where I believed he should be.”

Mr. DelVecchio said he didn’t wish ill on Geoghan.

“It’s over with,” he said.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon attorney-turned victim advocate, said even offenders like Geoghan deserve protection in prison.

“I’ve got mixed feelings,” Mr. Doyle said. “I do believe for somebody like a John Geoghan, they’ve done some grievous harm to people, but it’s possible to put them in an incarcerated situation where their lives aren’t in danger.”

Jay R. Feierman, a psychiatrist at the Servants of the Paraclete, said four of the 750 priests he saw through treatment were killed after they left the program.

He declined to discuss the specifics of the slayings.

Offenders are also considered to be at high risk for suicide.

Ray Mouton, the attorney for former Louisiana priest and sex offender Gilbert Gauthe, feared the clergyman would kill himself and tried desperately to get him into treatment instead of just sending him to prison. Gauthe pleaded guilty in 1985 to molesting 11 boys, drawing national attention to clerical sex abuse for the first time.

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