Former priest John Geoghan, the convicted child molester whose prosecution sparked the sex abuse scandal that shook the Roman Catholic Church nationwide, died Saturday after being attacked in prison. Preliminary indications are that Geoghan, 68, was strangled, Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said. An autopsy will be conducted Monday.
Conte said fellow inmate Joseph L. Druce, 37, attacked Geoghan shortly before noon Saturday. Geoghan died at 1:17 p.m., shortly after he was taken to UMass Memorial Health Alliance, Leominster Campus, 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, Conte said. In 2001, Druce was charged with mailing a threatening letter containing white powder and indicating it was contaminated with anthrax.
The attack took place shortly after lunchtime at Souza-Baranowski Correction Center, about 30 miles northwest of Boston, Department of Correction spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said. Geoghan was being held in protective custody to shield him from the general prison population, but he had some contact with other inmates in protective custody.
The church abuse scandal, which has had repercussions worldwide, broke in early 2002 with revelations that the church had shuttled Geoghan from parish to parish despite warnings about his behavior.
The scandal mushroomed after a judge ordered the release of archdiocese files involving dozens of priests, showing repeated examples of the archdiocese shipping priests to different parishes when allegations arose.
130 claims of abuse
Geoghan was convicted in January 2002 of indecent assault and battery for grabbing the buttocks of 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.
In civil lawsuits, more than 130 people have claimed Geoghan sexually abused them as children during his three decades as a priest at Boston-area parishes.
In September 2002, the archdiocese settled with 86 Geoghan victims for $10 million, after pulling out of an earlier settlement of about $30 million.
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.
Prayer for a soul's 'repose'
Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, 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.
Ralph DelVecchio, a Geoghan victim who settled with the archdiocese last year, said Geoghan deserved prison, but didn’t deserve to be killed.
“I wouldn’t say he deserved to die, you know?” DelVecchio said. “He was in jail — that’s where I believed he should be.”
DelVecchio said he didn’t wish ill on Geoghan.
“It’s over with,” he said.