Martha's Greatest Hits II: Candidate Coakley and the 'Pedophile Priest'

Second of a series. Find parts one here and three here.

The “Pedophile Priest” Case, 1995-2002: Coakley cut secret deal in 1995 that allowed Father Geoghan to molest again.

Martha Coakley is running for the U.S. Senate in part on her track record of keeping children safe from predators. The actual facts, however, are somewhat at odds with her campaign biography.

One of the most notorious cases of homosexual child abuse in the “pedophile priests” scandal that rocked the American Catholic Church in general and the Archdiocese of Boston in particular over the past twenty years involved Father John Geoghan, who came to symbolize the cancer in the church.


Here’s a brief introduction to the late, defrocked Father Geoghan by Denise Noe in Crime Magazine. Be sure to read the whole story, then come back.

The unofficial poster boy for priest pedophilia was a Boston priest named Father John Geoghan. He became a symbol for everything the church had done wrong in handling this problem when, on Jan. 6, 2002, The Boston Globe broke the story about how Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, had moved the abusive Geoghan from parish to parish over the years. The article also discussed the $10 million dollar settlement the church had already made with families of his victims. After the article ran, an embarrassed Law apologized – and turned over to law enforcement the names of dozens of Boston priests who had been similarly accused.

The Geoghan scandal rocked Boston, and eventually resulted in Cardinal Law’s removal as Archbishop. In part to shield him from possible prosecution, the late Pope John Paul II summoned Law to Rome, where he was ensconced as the Archpriest of the historic Basilica of St. Mary Major, and replaced him in Boston with Archbishop Sean O’Malley.

And what was Ms. Coakley’s role in all this? At first, she was applauded for her role in the successful prosecution of Father Geoghan in 2002. But then it was discovered that she had plea-bargained away molestation charges against him in 1995, letting him off with probation in a deal that was kept secret from the public.


One possible explanation for her actions is that she had lost a high-profile case against a priest in suburban Woburn, Father Paul Manning; Manning’s parishioners reportedly cheered when he was acquitted of molesting an 11-year-old altar boy at his 1994 trial.

Still, as David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, noted at the time: “Charging Geoghan with something and exposing him publicly might well have brought forward victims, witnesses, whistle-blowers, and evidence that could have resulted in a conviction and a tougher sentence.”

Here’s Martha, explaining herself:

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And here’s the Boston Globe story, recounting the whole sordid mess:

When Martha Coakley was the Middlesex district attorney, her office prosecuted the Rev. John J. Geoghan based on an allegation that he squeezed the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy a single time at a public swimming pool. The highly publicized 2002 conviction won Coakley widespread praise for bringing the first successful criminal case against the widely accused pedophile, a priest many had called “Father Jack.”

But seven years earlier, Coakley, then the head of the Middlesex child abuse unit, had Geoghan in her sights and took a dramatically different approach. Back then, three grade-school brothers told investigators that Geoghan had inappropriately touched them during numerous visits to their Waltham home, and had made lewd telephone calls to them. Rather than prosecute, Coakley agreed to grant Geoghan a year of probation in a closed-door proceeding that received no media attention at all.

Because of the deal, Geoghan faced no formal charges and no criminal record.

In sanctioning the 1995 probation agreement, Coakley, now the front-runner in a special election for the United States Senate, never pressed the Boston Archdiocese for any prior complaints against Geoghan.

That’s one way to make a name for yourself: let a pedophile off the hook privately so that he can molest more children, and then make a big, public conviction to take credit for your amazing work keeping children safe from…. the pedophile priest you secretly let go seven years earlier.

And as for Father Geoghan, he was strangled and killed by a fellow inmate in February, 2004.

More to come…


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