Judge dismisses rape charges against defrocked Catholic priest

Friday, March 8, 2002

BOSTON -- A judge threw out two child rape charges against the former Roman Catholic priest at the center of the Boston Archdiocese sex scandal Thursday, saying too much time had passed between the alleged assaults and the indictment.

John Geoghan, who is serving a 9- to 10-year sentence for fondling a 10-year-old boy, said 1999 charges that he twice raped another boy in the mid-1980s came after the statute of limitations had expired.

Suffolk County Judge Margaret Hinkle agreed. The county District Attorney's office said it was reviewing the judge's order and had made no decision whether to appeal.

The boy in the case, now a 27-year-old mechanic with two sons, said he had not heard of the judge's decision and had no immediate comment.

Geoghan still faces a third criminal trial for abuse of a child and 80 civil lawsuits.

Since 1995, more than 130 people have claimed Geoghan fondled or raped them during the three decades he served in Boston-area parishes. He was convicted of indecent assault in January in his first criminal trial.

The scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston broke wide open after reports that church officials ignored warnings of Geoghan's pedophilia. Cardinal Bernard F. Law publicly apologized to Geoghan's victims and announced a revamped "zero tolerance" policy.

In the past several weeks, the archdiocese has given prosecutors the names of 80 priests accused of abuse over the past half-century, and suspended 10 active priests from their posts.

Statute of limitations

Prosecutors have said many of the allegations will be difficult to investigate because of the time that has past, and warned that many of them may not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired.

Geoghan's attorney, Geoffrey Packard, had argued that the 10-year statute of limitations should have started in February 1986 when the boy, then 11, first reported to his mother that Geoghan fondled him.

That would mean the clock ran out in February 1996, a full three years before the indictment.

Prosecutors maintained the clock should have started when the rape was reported in 1989, not when the Department of Social Services first looked into allegations by the boy and filed a report in March 1986.

The judge disagreed. She found the DSS investigation was sufficient to start the statute of limitations running, even though the boy then alleged only fondling, not rape.

Prosecutors said the testimony from the boy's mother, social workers and police proved the rape wasn't reported until 1989, and said the victim's memory might be off because he was so young when he reported the abuse.

The legislature in May 1986 extended the statute of limitations to 15 years.

Elsewhere, Roman Catholic Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh has removed several priests from the ministry because of accusations of child sexual abuse.

A diocese spokesman, the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, wouldn't say how many priests had been removed but said it happened "recently." The allegations were considered credible but had not been substantiated, he said.

In Maine, a second complaint was filed Wednesday against one of two priests who last month publicly confessed to sexually abusing a minor.

The latest complaint against the Rev. Michael Doucette accuses the priest of exposing himself and propositioning a teen-age boy, said Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

The diocese has not said what the future of the two priests will be.

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