Victims’ mother: Preserve church’s sex abuse history
FOREST HILLS—The former St. Andrew the Apostle Church complex should be preserved as a monument to the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal, according to a mother of local victims.
Mitchell Garabedian, a famous attorney who represented many victims in the case, said St. Andrew’s is a “reminder to the world” and called for victim input about its fate. He also raised the idea of a monument to victims there or elsewhere.
Infamous child-molesting priest John Geoghan, whose prosecution blew open the church cover-up of sex crimes, served at St. Andrew’s from 1974 to 1980. He reportedly molested many children at the church and in the neighborhood. He was murdered in prison following a 2002 conviction for child molestation outside Boston.
“I represented 144 Geoghan victims. Many of them came from St. Andrew’s Parish,” said Garabedian in a Gazette interview.
Local victims were the first to sue the church over Geoghan’s actions, and their complaints became key evidence in the 2001 revelation of the extent of the archdiocese’s cover-up of scores of child rapes and molestations.
“There’s a historical reason that [church complex] needs to stay,” said Jamaica Plain resident Maryetta Dussourd, whose three sons and four other boys she raised were molested by Geoghan. “We want to say you never get rid of the records that are in permanent stone.”
“It’s where Geoghan was busted. It opened eyes worldwide,” Dussourd said, noting that St. Andrew’s has been pictured in international news reports about the sex abuse scandal. The site, she said, should be preserved as “evidence in your face of our destruction.”
“The St. Andrew’s site is a constant reminder to the world that the clergy sexual abuse crisis began with Father John J. Geoghan victims and triggered the clergy sexual abuse crisis around the world,” Garabedian said. “The very important lessons learned because of Father John J. Geoghan victims coming forward should never be forgotten, and reminders should remain so that such pedophilia never happens again.”
St. Andrew’s, at Walk Hill and Wachusett streets, is one of many former church sites being sold off by the archdiocese to raise cash. As previously revealed by the Gazette, someone has won the bid for St. Andrew’s, but the archdiocese has not yet revealed their identity or plans.
Dussourd and Garabedian’s preservation concerns were raised by a Gazette report that St. Andrew’s currently has no historical protection of any kind, which would allow a developer to demolish or alter any of the buildings.
The Boston Preservation Alliance and Historic Boston Incorporated also advocate preserving St. Andrew’s. But their arguments focus on aesthetics and positive church history, such as the expansion of the Catholic population in the late 1800s.
Dussourd and Garabedian do not have specific ideas at this point beyond preserving the site. Dussourd mentioned in passing the possibility of a museum.
“I think what we need to do is stir up a fire” and have a discussion with preservation groups, said Dussourd.
“I think the victims should speak up and give their opinion about whether such a site should be maintained or a memorial to victims [be built],” Garabedian said.
In any case, Garabedian said, there is one main message to send: “The victims are heroes and should be proud of themselves.”
Redevelopments of other church sites have tended to include housing as a major component. It is unclear how that might mesh with preserving St. Andrew’s as a monument to evil.
Memorials to the dark side of history are fairly common, including regional victim-focused sites such as the New England Holocaust Memorial or Salem’s monument to witchcraft mania victims. But the preservation of actual buildings because something horrible happened appears to be unusual and often involves ghoulish entertainment, such as the transformation of the Lizzie Borden murder home in Fall River into a bed-and-breakfast.
There are notable exceptions, such as the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., which preserves both the motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and the rooming house where his killer hid.
The section of the former Texas Schoolbook Depository building in Dallas, Texas from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John Kennedy is now a museum in a National Historic Landmark District. The web site for the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, as it is now known, explains that the site is preserved as a place where people can grieve and be educated about an event of national significance.
“History is poorly served by burying the past,” says the museum’s web site. “Despite the emotions that surround this event, there is a responsibility to face history squarely and to recount it accurately. Democratic societies are expected to interpret all of their history—the tragedies as well as the achievements.”
That is essentially the line of thought behind preserving St. Andrew’s for its sex abuse history.
“As painful as it is, we need to go out there and make a voice for the future children,” Dussourd said.
Geoghan was not the first child-molesting priest to cause a major scandal. But his case was the first to reveal that the Catholic Church was aware of its pedophile problems at high levels and sought to cover it up, in part by moving child-molesting priests unannounced to new churches rather than turn them in.
When the scandal broke in 2001, it shook the Vatican and set off a wave of national and international investigations. Various archdioceses paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in legal settlements with hundreds of victims.
Geoghan eventually went to prison for abusing a boy in Waltham. But it was his St. Andrew’s crimes that were most damning of the church hierarchy.
Dussourd was raised a St. Andrew’s parishioner and attended school there. She trusted priests enough to let Geoghan associate with the boys in her care, including tucking them into bed. Geoghan repeatedly molested them.
When Dussourd notified the church, she met with denial. A 1979 letter from St. Andrew’s pastor Francis Delaney to then Bishop Thomas Daily—later made public as part of the sex abuse investigation and now on the Bishop-Accountability.org web site—declares Geoghan innocent and tears apart the reputation of his accusers, saying the “possible hand of the devil” was behind their complaints.
During the sex abuse investigation years later, the Boston Globe reported that Delaney said in a deposition that he later heard that Geoghan was bringing boys into his rooms in the rectory, reportedly to “shower.” The Globe reported that Delaney said he confronted Geoghan about the reports, which Geoghan denied.
At least one other accuser later said Geoghan molested him in the St. Andrew’s rectory.
In 1980, Geoghan admitted molesting Dussourd’s children to other church officials. He was placed on “sick leave” and later transferred to a Dorchester church, where he molested more children. Among them was the late Patrick McSorley, a well-known plaintiff in Garabedian’s major lawsuit against the archdiocese, whose siblings knew Geoghan from St. Andrew’s School, according to the Boston Phoenix.
Dussourd and her relatives were instructed to keep matters quiet by the church, she said. But in 1982, Geoghan approached one of her children again in a JP ice cream shop.
It was too much for the family to bear. Dussourd’s sister, Margaret Gallant, wrote a letter that year to then Cardinal Humberto Medeiros protesting Geoghan’s continued service and church claims that the priest was “cured.”
“It was suggested that we keep silent to protect the boys—that is absurd since minors are protected under law, and I do not wish to hear that remark again, since it is insulting to our intelligence,” Gallant wrote. “May Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have mercy on all of us.”
The letter became a key piece of evidence undercutting archdiocese claims that high officials were unaware of the sex abuse or that they did not know about modern psychological and legal concepts about pedophiliac molesters.
Dussourd and some of the children filed the first Geoghan-related lawsuit in 1997, which was settled out of court. One of the settlement requirements was that its terms remain secret.