Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Thank God I Never Met Fr. John Geoghan

The critically acclaimed movie Spotlight opens in 1976, at a Boston Police station, where two policemen discuss the arrest of Catholic priest Fr. John J. Geoghan for child molestation, and a high ranking cleric talks to the mother of the children. The Assistant District Attorney then enters the precinct and tells the policemen not to let the press get wind of what has happened. The arrest is hushed up, and the priest is released.

The whole movie is centered around the abuses of Fr. John Geoghan, which were hushed up by the Boston Archdiocese. He was the priest who had helped spark the investigations of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church around the world.

There is also a scene in the movie Spotlight when Boston Globe reporter Matt Carroll, played by actor Brian d’Arcy James, realizes that a “rehab facility" for priests accused of sexual abuse is located around the corner from his own house. “Oh, shit," Carroll says in the movie. Which is what he said in real life when he made the discovery in his West Roxbury home in 2001.

While his exclamation is accurate, Carroll said the rest of the scene isn’t totally true. The house that Carroll discovered wasn’t actually a rehab facility. It was the home of Fr. John Geoghan, the priest accused of sexually assaulting more than 130 boys. Geoghan was eventually convicted of a single count of molesting a boy at a public swimming pool in 1991, and later he was murdered by his prison cellmate, who himself had been molested as a child.

This house is currently located on Pelton Street just a few blocks from my home where I am writing this right now. It is now owned by a Boston policeman. In 1991 however, it was also just a few blocks from the pizza place my family owned on Center Street, called Johnny's Pizza, named after yours truly.

Fr. John Geoghan would often come to our pizza place. He was very friendly, at least that is what my parents have told me. I was in high school at the time, between 1990 and 1994, and even though I worked at the pizza place fairly often, I never met Fr. John Geoghan. And thank God I never did.

It seems Fr. John was a bit chatty with my parents, especially my mom, and my mom would tell him how I was interested in going to seminary. He was told I was about 15 or 16 at the time, and he expressed the desire to meet me one day. When my mom told me there was a Catholic priest at the pizza place that wanted to meet me, I said "ok," even though I was not that interested, since he was Catholic and I was Orthodox, and I figured he just wanted to give me advice or encourage me, and I wasn't that interested in being put in an awkward position.

I never knew the name of this priest. I just know that as often as he came to our pizza place, he would ask my mom about me. "I'd like to meet him," he would tell her. I must have heard about this at least 6 or 7 times, maybe more.

Years went by, and I still never knew the name of this priest. Of course I knew of Fr. John Geoghan from the news when the media detailed his story in 2001. I followed all the stories about him. And when in 2015 I learned from the movie Spotlight that Fr. John Geoghan lived in West Roxbury, I was fascinated, since in 2015 I also lived in West Roxbury.

Around two years ago, I was driving my father to a hospital appointment, and we passed by a big Catholic Church near our old pizza place in West Roxbury. He said to me: "This is where that priest who was killed in prison for molesting boys served that would come to our pizza place." When I heard this, my mouth dropped. "You mean Fr. John Geoghan was the priest that would ask to meet me back then?" I asked in horror. "Yes," he said, "I thought you knew." I later confirmed this with my mother.

So it wasn't until 2017 that I realized that in 1991, the year Fr. John Geoghan molested a boy in a pool, he also tried to meet me. Granted, he never knew how I looked like, so I may not have been his cup of tea, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I realized that as a young lad I nearly encountered the most notorious child molester in the history of the Catholic Church. Truth be told, in 1991 I was an athletic 16 year old who could bench press over 300 lbs. If he tried anything on me, I may have killed him myself with a single punch. So thank God I never met Fr. John Geoghan.