70-plus Church sexual abuse cases in JP

May 28, 2010
By

John Ruch

Attorney: Numbers are a shock

The sexual abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church for nearly a decade included more than 70 children molested at Jamaica Plain Church institutions, according to data compiled at the Gazette’s request by the famous attorney whose work helped break open the scandal.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian had never looked at the Church sexual abuses cases he has handled in geographic terms before, and the JP numbers shocked him.

“This is just Jamaica Plain. This is unbelievable,” Garabedian said. “I do this [work] every day and I’m so close to it, but having a local newspaper like yours say there were 70 cases in your neighborhood—it’s just unbelievable.”

The 70 cases, which span 27 years from the 1950s to 1980s, include abuse victims from four out of five JP parishes and the former Nazareth Child Care Center on Moss Hill. The infamous child-raping priest John Geoghan alone is responsible for 59 of those cases during his time at St. Andrew the Apostle in Forest Hills. Geoghan became the face of the Boston Archdiocese’s cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, in part because of the activism of JP survivors’ families.

There likely were more sexual abuse cases in JP than those Garabedian has handled.

“Those are my clients. There are other lawyers handling [similar] cases,” Garabedian said.

Kelly Lynch, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese on sexual abuse matters, did not respond to a Gazette request for comment for this article.

The JP Church sexual abuse cases and the abuser responsible include:

• St. Andrew’s, 59 cases, priest John Geoghan (1974-79). Geoghan, who attended seminary in JP, was a known child molester when he was transferred to St. Andrew’s.

• Nazareth, 5 cases, seminary student Paul Hightower and lay brother Edward Anthony Holmes (1968-85).

• Blessed Sacrament, 3 cases, priest Robert Ryer (1958-60).

• St. Thomas Aquinas, 2 cases, priest Robert Burns (1983-85). Burns was a known child molester when he was transferred to St. Thomas and made associate pastor.

• Our Lady of Lourdes (OLOL), 1 case, priest Robert Gale (1970s). After being accused of abuse at OLOL, Gale was transferred to other churches and continued abusing children before being imprisoned for child rape.

Of those 70 cases, 68 have already been acknowledged and settled financially by the Archdiocese, according to Garabedian. One claim for Holmes’ abuse while he worked at Nazareth is still pending, but Holmes already has been criminally convicted and imprisoned for that crime. The Gazette previously reported on the life story of Scott Kimball, the abuse survivor in that case.

The 70 cases also include a new claim against Geoghan, who was murdered while in prison for child molestation. It is the 150th abuse case against Geoghan that Garabedian has handled.

Garabedian is also representing a client in an abuse claim against a former OLOL teacher, dating from the 1970s. That claim is still pending and the accused teacher has no criminal convictions in the matter, so the Gazette did not add it to the list of confirmed Church abuse cases.

Garabedian has represented about 700 victims of sexual predators in the Boston Archdiocese. “And they’re still coming in,” he said. “People [who survived abuse] will not stop coming forward in my lifetime…The abuse has been going on for centuries.”

“Every new case that comes in my door shocks me as much as the first,” Garabedian said.

That first case was in 1995, when a Waltham mother told Garabedian about a priest named John Geoghan who was “going door to door to door” in a housing development, preying on children.

“One was washing his hands ’til they bled every day,” Garabedian said of one of the abused children he interviewed for that case. “It was because Geoghan was visiting the house regularly to put the children to bed.”

Tracking parents’ complaints about Geoghan, Garabedian followed the trail to JP. He has represented many abuse survivors from St. Andrew’s, including the family of well-known local whistleblower Maryetta Dussourd, whose three sons and four other boys she raised were molested by Geoghan. Garabedian calls Dussourd “a hero.”

A letter sent to the Archdiocese in the 1980s by Dussourd’s sister, Margaret Gallant, became a key piece of evidence that allowed Garabedian to prove that the highest Church officials were aware of Geoghan’s crimes, yet continued to protect him and give him access to more victims.

JP abuse survivors, like those elsewhere, were originally met with denial and hostility. The pastor of St. Andrew’s at the time of 1979 abuse allegations against Geoghan complained in a letter to Archdiocese officials that the “possible hand of the devil” was a motivation—not of Geoghan, but of his accusers.

Garabedian and other attorneys representing survivors faced similar opposition from the Archdiocese when the scandal broke in 2001 and became an international crisis that is still unfolding. The 2002 resignation of former Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law was followed by a more open approach from the Church, including an expedited settlement process and lifelong therapy services made available to survivors.

Pope Benedict XVI has been in the news recently with stronger denunciations of predatory priests. But scandals continue to erupt in Church institutions around the world, and questions have been raised about Benedict’s own involvement in cover-ups prior to becoming pope.

“The pope’s not following up his words with any actions,” said Garabedian, calling for the Church to release names of predatory priests and allow survivors to sit on advisory boards. “He has to come clean. It’s necessary so that victims can begin to heal.”

The Church abuse crisis has made Garabedian famous. He was even portrayed by “Cheers” actor Ted Danson in a TV movie. But he remains focused on helping his clients from JP and elsewhere, and gives them the credit.

“They should be proud for standing up for themselves,” he said.

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