A defrocked priest at the center of a widening clerical sex abuse scandal was sentenced today to the maximum prison term of 9 to 10 years for fondling a 10-year-old boy in 1991.
John J. Geoghan, 66, was convicted on indecent assault and battery charges last month in the first of three criminal trials involving allegations of child molestation. Geoghan is accused of fondling or raping more than 130 boys over several decades and also faces more than 80 civil suits.
In handing down the sentence, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Sandra Hamlin said Geoghan had no hope of rehabilitation.
"This court has no doubt he's dangerous," she said. "He engaged in what this court can only characterize as reprehensible and depraved behavior."
Geoghan's sister, Catherine Geoghan, clutched rosary beads while the sentence was read. "I'm numb," she told the Associated Press. "It's very unjust, completely."
In this case, Geoghan was accused of sticking his hand down a boy's shorts and squeezing his buttocks about a decade ago during a swimming session at a Boys and Girls Club. At today's sentencing hearing, the victim's mother demanded a formal apology.
"I would like him to be removed from civilization where he would never hurt another child," said Kimberly Brown, the mother.
Geoghan has figured prominently in a church scandal that continues to rock Roman Catholic communities throughout New England. Evidence that the Boston archdiocese knowingly allowed suspected pedophile priests to work in parishes has led to calls for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, the country's senior Roman Catholic ecclesiastic.
It also has led to the suspension of at least nine active priests in the Boston archdiocese, including one this past week, and to the release to state authorities of more than 90 names of current and former suspected pedophile priests regionwide.
Fallout from the case has been felt in other parishes and communities across the country, where it has heightened concern about sexual abuse of children by priests among two-thirds of Americans, according to a new ABC News poll. The poll was conducted Feb. 19-20 and involved a random national sample of 1,008 adults.
The poll said that by a 3 to 1 margin, Americans say the Catholic Church is not doing enough to deal with such abuse. Eighty percent of those polled -- including most Catholics -- favor laws requiring the Church to disclose allegations of abuse to police and parishioners.
Geoghan's attorney, Geoffrey Packard, said his client was a good priest and neighbor who did not deserve more than three years in prison, as recommended by state sentencing guidelines. Packard asked the judge not to make Geoghan a scapegoat because he "is the flash point for the issue that has shaken the foundation of the Archdiocese of Boston."
However, prosecutors seeking the maximum prison sentence called Geoghan "a predatory pedophile."
Hamlin ordered that Geoghan, who is eligible for parole in six years, remain on probation and stay away from children under 16 for the rest of his life.
Geoghan offered no comment after sentencing. He smiled slightly as he was led away in handcuffs.
"I think he's stunned. He's just been sent to state prison and he's 66 years old. I am afraid for him," Packard said.
This week, Packard also sought dismissal of child rape charges against the ex-priest in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston because the statute of limitations expired. A hearing is scheduled for Friday in the case, which involves allegations Geoghan raped an 11-year-old boy in the mid-1980s.
Law, who is named in civil suits against Geoghan, has said he transferred Geoghan between parishes based on medical advice. Law has apologized to the ex-priest's alleged victims.
The Archdiocese of Boston amended its policy to permit reporting of past and future sex abuse allegations.
In a statement released today after Geoghan's sentencing, an archdiocese spokeswoman said church officials were "pleased that justice has been served."
"While we hope today's sentencing brings some measure of peace to victims, we also understand it cannot erase the tragic scarring many individuals have suffered," she said.