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Hard Time For Defrocked Priest

Defrocked Catholic priest John Geoghan sits in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge, Mass., Nov. 5, 2001. Geoghan, 66, goes on trial Monday, Jan. 14, in Cambridge, on child molestation charges. Geoghan is also facing 84 civil lawsuits from people who claimed he fondled or raped them during the three decades he served in Boston-area parishes.
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A former priest who has become a central figure in a sexual abuse scandal that has shaken Boston's Roman Catholic community was sentenced to the maximum sentence of nine to 10 years Thursday for fondling a 10-year-old boy in 1991.

Judge Sandra Hamlin said Geogan "hid behind his collar" and his position in the church to prey on young boys.

Geoghan received the sentence a day after the Archdiocese announced it was suspending a pastor in Abington following allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor. He was the ninth priest suspended since the new policy was announced.

In western Massachusetts on Wednesday, a former chancellor for the Catholic Diocese of Worcester and a former official at the Vatican was removed from his pastorship at St. Mary's parish in North Grafton because of an allegation involving sexual misconduct with a minor in 1967.

Also on Wednesday, prosecutors and attorneys for Goeghan argued about whether the statute of limitations has expired on other charges he faces. The case had been scheduled to go to trial Wednesday.

Attorneys Geoghan argued the charges should be dismissed because the alleged victim made a molestation accusation in 1986. The court should apply the 10-year statute of limitations that existed then, argued Geoffrey Packard, Geoghan's attorney. The current 15-year time limit on child rape charges took effect in 1996.

In the case Geoghan was sentenced in Thursday, the victim testified that Geoghan approached him at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club and offered to teach him how to dive. He said he recognized Geoghan as a priest he had seen in his housing project.

After coaching him verbally for 10 or 15 minutes, the priest stuck his hand down the boy's shorts and squeezed his buttocks, the young man testified.

Geoghan did not testify, and no one testified on his behalf.

The Geoghan trials are at the root of a scandal that has rocked the U.S. Catholic church and sparked calls for the resignation of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, the most senior U.S. prelate.

Law and five other bishops are accused of knowing of Geoghan's abuses but ignoring them as they shuttled him from parish to parish.

In all, more than 130 people have accused Geoghan of sexually abusing them over the course of his 30 years as a priest in Boston's diocese, and he faces more than 80 civil suits.

He will be sentenced on Thursday for his conviction last month on charges that he molested a 10-year-old boy as the two swam together more than a decade ago. He faces life in prison if convicted in the current case.

He is now charged with two counts of rape of a child in the early 1980s. The rape is alleged to have taken the form of oral sex.

During the hearing on Wednesday before Judge Margaret Hinkle lawyers tried to pin down the sequence of events that led to the filing of charges, calling eight witnesses, including the alleged victim and his mother Barbara Boyd.

Under questioning by defense attorney Geoffrey Pacard and Assistant District Attorney David Deakin, the two described how Geoghan befriended them and often came to see them.

Boyd said that once a week for several months Geoghan would arrive just after her son had gone to bed. The priest would then go upstairs and spend half an hour in the boy's darkened room.

When the mother asked the priest to come earlier, he stopped coming at all, she testified.

Her son said he waited four years to tell his mother that Geoghan sexually molested him, and told her only after he was caught sexually abusing his brother.

"I recall telling her everything about the sexual abuse and the oral sex," the man, now 27, told the court.

But Boyd said she was certain her son never mentioned oral sex, instead telling her only that Geoghan had fondled his genitals. "He told me that Father Geoghan had touched him ... between his legs," she said.

The testimony will probably be repeated before a jury if Hinkle rules that the rape trial proper should go ahead.

In the wake of Geoghan's first trial, thousands of pages of documents unsealed by a court order revealed the diocese quietly settled child sex abuse claims against at least 70 priests in the last 10 years.

Under pressure, the church has also handed police the names of dozens of priests accused over the last 40 years of sexual abuse of children.

Earlier this month Law suspended six active priests because they were accused of sexual impropriety earlier in their careers.

The extent of the cover-up and the sheer number of priests involved have shocked Boston's large Catholic community. A recent poll published in the Boston Globe found that 48 percent of area Catholics believed Law should quit.

Law, who has made several extraordinary public apologies for the Geoghan fiasco, said he will not step down and Catholic scholars said public pressure was unlikely to force him out.

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