BOSTON — His crimes ruined young lives, and many say he destroyed their faith in the Roman Catholic Church. But even some victims of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan didn’t wish for the violent death he met.
“Many victims are disappointed,” said attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents more than 200 alleged victims of Geoghan and other clergy. “They wish Father John Geoghan had time to be in prison to reflect.”
Geoghan was allegedly strangled and beaten Saturday by Joseph L. Druce, a fellow inmate in the maximum security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley who is serving a life term for killing a man 15 years ago.
The former priest molested nearly 150 boys over three decades and became a catalyst for the clergy sex abuse scandal that shook the foundations of the Catholic church.
“He’s never going to hurt anybody again, and at the same time, he still had a lot of penance to do on Earth,” said Michael Linscott, 45, who claims he was abused by Geoghan from 1967 to 1972.
Geoghan, 68, was serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for assault and battery on a 10-year-old boy. He’d been in protective custody since being transferred to Souza-Baranowski in April, officials said.
Druce, 37, a reputed member of the neo-Nazi group Aryan Nation, was convicted in the June 1988 murder of George Rollo, 51, a gay bus driver who had picked Druce up hitchhiking. Druce, who then went by his birth name, Darrin E. Smiledge, attacked Rollo, stuffed him in the trunk of Rollo’s car, drove him to a wooded area and strangled him, according to court documents.
A fellow hitchhiker told investigators that Smiledge attacked the bus driver when Rollo made a sexual advance, according to the documents. An insanity defense failed and Smiledge was sentenced to life in prison.
Smiledge also pleaded guilty to sending fake anthrax from prison to lawyers with Jewish-sounding names and was sentenced to an additional 37 months in prison.
Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said Druce will be charged with murder, though no charges had been brought as of this morning. He said Geoghan appeared to have been strangled, though an autopsy was scheduled for today.
An executive of the state corrections union, Robert W. Brouillette, told The Boston Globe and The Washington Post that Druce followed Geoghan into his cell and jammed the electronic cell door to prevent guards from opening it. Druce bound Geoghan’s hands behind his back with a sheet and gagged him. He then repeatedly jumped onto Geoghan’s body from a bed and beat him with his fists, Brouillette said.
State correction officials declined to comment to The Associated Press on the reports.
Geoghan’s abuses cut a wide swath through parishes in the Boston Archdiocese – and he came to symbolize the horrors of pedophile priests and the exhaustive steps church hierarchy would take to keep the allegations under wraps.
John J. King, who was allegedly abused by former priest Ronald Paquin, said priests like Geoghan and Paquin needed rehabilitation, not death.
“I’ve been seeking counseling and I wanted the same for them,” said King, who claims he was abused at 13, when Paquin was a priest working with youths in Methuen.
Geoghan was ordained in 1962, starting a 34-year career that took him to six different parishes. Along the way, he left behind a trail of allegations of predatory abuse.
Molestation scandals had hit the church in America for nearly two decades, with notorious cases involving priests and dioceses in Lafayette, La., in 1984; Fall River, Mass., in 1992; and Dallas in 1993.
But in January 2002, the church’s role in the handling of priests, long sealed in the courts, first came to light when a judge ordered the release of documents in Geoghan’s civil cases.
They showed that Geoghan continually had been allowed to return to pastoral service, despite mounting evidence of compulsive pedophilia.
“It was the first time objective evidence was produced to show that the Archdiocese of Boston, through its supervisors, allowed the abuse to continue,” Garabedian said.
Geoghan eventually was granted early retirement in 1996 and praised for an “effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness” by Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who ultimately resigned in December 2002 for his role in the scandal.
With legal troubles mounting, Geoghan was defrocked in 1998, and in December 1999 charged with raping and molesting three boys. The archdiocese eventually settled with 86 Geoghan victims for $10 million.
Following Geoghan’s trial, lawyers representing hundreds of alleged abuse victims of other priests brought new cases, forcing the church to turn over tens of thousands more documents and revealing over time the previously unknown scope of the church’s cover up.