Deposing the Archbishop

One year ago this week, a roomful of lawyers sat down with Archbishop-designate Alfred Hughes to find out what he knew about Father John Geoghan, and when he knew it.



A year ago this week, New Orleans Archbishop-designate Alfred Clinton Hughes sat down for an extraordinary all-day meeting in a secular setting.

On the morning of May 24, 2001, Hughes gathered with a handful of lawyers at the downtown Windsor Court hotel. He took an oath administered by a court reporter. The attorneys in the room were all from Hughes' hometown of Boston, where he had served as a top aide to embattled Cardinal Bernard Law. Hughes transferred to the Diocese of Baton Rouge in 1993, before coming to New Orleans to replace Archbishop Francis Schulte in January 2002.

Hughes' statements that May morning were recorded as testimony for 16 civil suits pending in Massachusetts courts against accused pedophile priest Father John Geoghan and the Archdiocese of Boston. The Boston church scandals still lay outside the New Orleans hotel room and somewhere in the future. The Boston Globe would not publish its explosive expose on the Catholic Church's cover-up of Geoghan and other pedophile priests for another six months. Authorities in New Orleans had not yet insisted archdiocesan officials consult police before dismissing yellowing complaints of child abuse by priests.

And Cardinal Law had not yet testified in his own deposition that he left the discipline of troubled priests to subordinates -- a statement that might yet turn the spotlight back on men like Hughes.

To date, despite his former position atop the Boston archdiocese, Hughes has not endured the kind of scrutiny that has dogged Law. But can a church administrator such as Hughes, who once helped lead a system that failed to protect children, now lead an effective reform movement in his own archdiocese?

"That is a question that is being asked here every day," says one Boston attorney.

Father William Maestri, a spokesman for the New Orleans Archdiocese, said last week that Hughes would not be available for comment for this story, stating that it would be "inappropriate" for Hughes to comment during the ongoing civil litigation in Boston.

Gambit Weekly obtained a copy of Hughes' 139-page deposition. Plaintiff attorneys, representing 130 people who say they were sexually abused as children by Geoghan, questioned Hughes for most of the day. Allegations of child sexual abuse by Geoghan date to 1962.

Plaintiff attorney William H. Gordon, of the Boston law offices of Mitchell Garabedian, wanted to know what Hughes knew about Geoghan and when he knew it. And what Hughes did -- if anything -- to stop him.

Hughes' testimony began with a recitation of his impressive resume, stalled at points for identification of obscure church offices and officials, and cautions from a father-and-son team of Catholic Church defense attorneys that certain answers were protected under confidentiality privileges afforded clergy under Massachusetts law.

The microcosmic mesh of Church and civil laws had its moments. When lawyer Gordon asked Hughes to read an excerpt of Boston church laws, the archbishop-designate replied: "In Latin or in English?"

"Whichever you feel more comfortable with," Gordon said. "The questions will be posed to you in English."

Hughes' deposition provides a skeletal sketch of the archbishop and his role in the Boston scandals. A fuller picture emerges with the help of published sources, including Law's deposition.

A native of West Roxbury, Mass., Hughes, now 69, was one of four children born to an educator and her husband, an Irish immigrant who encouraged his oldest son to become a priest. Alfred Jr.'s only brother, Kenneth, became a Jesuit priest. Ordained in Rome in 1957, Alfred Hughes Jr. became spiritual director of St. John's Seminary in Boston in 1965. He served there for 16 years.

Hughes testified in his deposition that under his supervision during the early 1970s, the seminary adopted "a full battery of psychological" tests to screen out those who might not properly serve as priests:

Q: Do you know why the tests were instituted?

Hughes: [I]n the post-Vatican II implementation of seminary reform, one of the things that was called for was to pay attention to the resources of the behavioral sciences in both the assessment of candidates and the preparation of the candidates for ordination.

In 1981, no less an authority than The Boston Globe praised Hughes' promotion to rector of St. John's and auxiliary bishop. A Globe headline hailed Hughes, then 48, as "An Architect of a New Seminary Education." The paper called the Bishop-elect "one of a new breed of Catholic educators formally trained in the 'formation' of new priests. ... After 16 years' experience of combining modern psychology with more traditional religious practices of prayer, 'spiritual reading' and retreats, Fr. Hughes has some well-developed ideas about priesthood and how it affects the rest of the Church."

Hughes and fellow Auxiliary Bishop John M. D'Arcy were also "credited with influencing the development of a national center for priests, sisters and lay persons that combines training in behavioral science and theology." Hughes is personally described as "more conservative than most priests. ... Those who know him insist he is neither ambitious nor political, a man who earned, but did not seek, popularity. He is a popular confessor among priests and frequently sought out by men who first met him when they were seminarians."

Hughes even wrote a book, Preparing for Church Ministry, which was published by Dimension Books in 1979. In it, he "looks unflinchingly on human behavior while maintaining the church's views on moral conduct," the Globe article continues.

"For instance, he observes that 'every disciple experiences some disorientation in the sexual area. No one of us is free from disordered desires, feelings and thoughts. ... With God's help, truly chaste love is possible; it is a gift to be prayed for.'"

Despite his grounding in modern psychology, Hughes testified in his deposition that prior to the 1980s, he had not heard about "child sexual abuse" by anyone, at least not outside of the sacraments of confession accorded to priests by Massachusetts law.

Under questioning, Hughes also said that while at St. John's, he did not teach seminarians what a priest should do when he learns that a child is at risk of being sexually abused.

"If this was treated, it would have been treated in moral theology and pastoral theology [classes]," Hughes said. "Now, what I myself learned in moral theology was first of all, the moral evil of these acts and my responsibility as a priest dealing with people who commit these acts [is] to help them with repentance and to reform their lives. That was the focus of our preparation.

"I think we all need to recognize that even in the area of psychology, the understanding of the kinds of issues that surround pedophilia was not known among the professionals, did not find their way into professional textbooks until the '80s."

In fact, a review of scholarly journal articles from 1937-1980, cited in the 1990 textbook Pedophilia: Bisocial Dimensions, shows that research on the "sexual abuse" of children increased dramatically after President Richard Nixon signed the Child Abuse and Treatment Act of 1974. There were 102 scholarly articles on the sexual abuse of children catalogued through 1980 after the act was passed. The review cited in Pedophilia did not include psychoanalytic literature or criminology literature, which is "replete" with studies on adults who abuse children, according to social scientist Vern L. Bullough.

By 1985, a stinging 100-page report recommending a policy to remove pedophile priests and provide aid for their victims had found its way inside a meeting of the National Catholic Conference of Bishops. The report, titled "The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive Manner," was co-authored by the Rev. Thomas Doyle, an American canon lawyer at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, Father Michael Peterson, a psychiatrist, and Ray Mouton, a former lawyer for a pedophile priest.

Hughes said he did not know Mouton or Doyle, but met Peterson years later. Hughes recalled the bishops' conference, and a small "vigilant organization of victims" protesting outside, but not the report.

The victims' group was demonstrating for protective policies and dialogue with the bishops, amid national publicity over pedophile priest Gilbert Gauthe of Lafayette. Gauthe molested some 200 boys, ages 7 and up.

Hughes recalled that the victims who petitioned the 1985 conference were invited to participate in an ad hoc committee and "produced some suggested guidelines for the development of diocesan policies."

That same year, the Boston archdiocese also began developing similar policies under Cardinal Law, who had been appointed archbishop the previous year. Both panels' work began at least five years before an incident involving Geoghan was brought to Hughes for disciplinary action.

In March 1984, Law was installed as Archbishop of Boston. In January 1985, Hughes braved freezing cold weather at an anti-abortion rally to deliver a supportive invocation on behalf of Archbishop Law. The crowd cheered at the mention of Law's name.

It is unclear from available sources just how Law and Hughes first met. But the Cardinal is no stranger to Louisiana. After graduating from Harvard University with a bachelor's degree in history in 1953, Law studied philosophy for two years at St. Joseph's Seminary at St. Benedict, near Covington. From 1962 to 1968, Law served as editor of the Diocesan newspaper in neighboring Mississippi, a state that then claimed only 40,000 Catholics.

In 1986, Hughes was promoted to regional bishop of Boston. And in 1990, Law named him his second in command: chief operating officer and top adviser on local church matters. Formally known as vicar general and vicar for administration, Hughes took office on Nov. 19, 1990.

Law expressed "great confidence" in Hughes, saying he will "assist me in all my administrative duties as archbishop." One year later, Hughes' duties included a complaint against Father John Geoghan, known as "Jack" to Hughes and other priests.

In his deposition, Hughes could not recall specifically when he first met Geoghan. Hughes said he would have met Geoghan while serving as regional bishop, from 1986 to 1990, over an area that included St. Julia Parish in Boston. "I would have done Confirmation at St. Julia and he would have been present for Confirmation," Hughes recalled. "We would have had conversation, but it was not addressing any issue with him."

Archbishop Law had transferred Geoghan to St. Julia's on Nov. 13, 1984, following complaints the priest had molested boys in his former parish. At St. Julia's, Geoghan was put in charge of three youth groups, including altar boys. One month later, Auxiliary Bishop John D'Arcy wrote to Law complaining about his assignment to St. Julia's, noting his "history of homosexual involvement with young boys." Geoghan, however, was declared "fully recovered" by a church-sanctioned doctor and returned to his priestly duties with no restrictions.

Hughes testified that D'Arcy, a close friend from their own seminary days, never discussed Geoghan with him. Nor did Hughes discuss Geoghan with other bishops, until Hughes became Law's chief operating officer.

In November 1990, when Hughes replaced Bishop Robert J. Banks as Cardinal Law's right-hand man, Banks advised his successor of Geoghan's pedophilia.

"Everything was done in very summary fashion," Hughes testified. "I don't remember specifically what [Banks] said about John Geoghan, but I do know that he indicated ... that I should put it on my calendar to meet with him six months from then to see that he is fulfilling the (treatment) program that had been outlined for him."

What did Banks know about Geoghan when he briefed Hughes in 1990? Four years earlier, in 1986, Banks received allegations that Geoghan -- then at St. Julia's Church -- had molested boys at a swimming pool at the Waltham Boys & Girls Club, The Globe later reported. And one year prior to Hughes' briefing, Banks received yet another allegation of child sexual abuse that dated to 1986.

In April 1989, Geoghan was treated at St. Luke's Institute in Maryland, where he was diagnosed with "homosexual pedophilia." Later that month, Geoghan said he had to leave active ministry. He was placed on sick leave and later treated at another church treatment center.

Banks expressed unhappiness with the discharge summary from the treatment center which read: "The probability he would act out again is quite low. However, we could not guarantee it would not reoccur." Banks, nevertheless, recommended Geoghan's return to parish work, pending approval by Law. Three weeks after Hughes replaced Banks, a church-sanctioned doctor approved Geoghan for pastoral work.

From Hughes' deposition:

Q: When Bishop Banks briefed you about Mr. Geoghan ... did he tell you a number of priests, a finite number of priests, with whom you had to keep tabs on about which there have been allegations about their inappropriate conduct with children?

Hughes: More than one.

Q: Were the procedures for evaluation, monitoring of Fr. Geoghan the same that was utilized for other priests?

Hughes: Basically.

Q: Did Bishop Banks indicate to you there had been conflicting medical recommendations with regard to Fr. Geoghan?

Hughes: Not that I recall.

After the changing of the watch with Banks, Hughes acknowledged he did not probe beyond his predecessor's summary of Geoghan -- even though as vicar of administration, Hughes had access to confidential records of all priests in the Boston Archdiocese. In fact, Hughes admitted in his New Orleans deposition, he never read any reports on Geoghan.

In Oct. 23, 1991, Hughes received a complaint from a Salvation Army worker about Geoghan at the pool of the Waltham Boys and Girls Club. The priest was "interacting with this young boy ... in a way that was open to misinterpretation. The report did not include any report of genital behavior," Hughes said.

Hughes said he did not recall speaking directly to the woman who filed the complaint. He also did not recall talking to Cardinal Law about any misconduct allegations against Geoghan.

To prepare for his 1991 meeting with Geoghan, Hughes asked Father John McCormack, then vicar of clergy and later Law's special delegate on sex abuse cases, to review Geoghan's personnel record. McCormack gave Hughes a verbal summary over the phone. Hughes took notes.

In 1980, Hughes noted, a woman reported that Geoghan had "homosexual activity with sons and nephew, [ages] six to 11, for a year," sometime between 1976 to 1979. Geoghan underwent psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. In 1980, he admitted to another priest he molested the seven children.

In 1982, Hughes noted, the same mother complained to Bishop Thomas Daily about Geoghan "going out with boys after a wake for ice cream and doing the same thing."

In 1984, Hughes noted, a pastor and an "associate" reported telephone calls from another priest about Geoghan "re: 'inappropriate behavior, rides with boys, inappropriate language.'" Geoghan again received "favorable" reports from the doctors and returned to St. Julia's Church.

In 1989, Hughes wrote, there was a fourth complaint that Geoghan fondled a boy. The state social worker investigating the case dropped it for lack of evidence. However, Hughes' notes include a recommendation by a doctor for inpatient treatment for Geoghan. "Need to take incidents seriously," Hughes wrote. "Homosexual pedophile? Recommend residential treatment because he may act out in a cyclical way."

During his deposition, Hughes acknowledged his notes did not mention a 1989 medical report from the same doctor indicating that Geoghan may be biologically predisposed to depression but could respond to anti-depressants. Hughes did not review any of Geoghan's files personally nor did he ask McCormack to conduct a more comprehensive search.

Further examination would have showed that Geoghan's problems dated at least to seminary school. In 1954, an official at Cardinal O'Connell Seminary in Boston observed seminarian Geoghan had a "very pronounced immaturity." And in 1955, Geoghan failed to attend a mandatory six-week seminary camp because of "a nervous and depressed state."

On Oct. 23, 1991, Hughes met with Geoghan. Hughes recalled in a later statement that he told Geoghan not to return to the Boys and Girls Club and that he forbade Geoghan from associating with young people. However, Geoghan was allowed to continue working as a priest.

The bishops conference would not adopt and disseminate a nationwide policy on sexual misconduct until January 1993. That same year, Hughes was transferred to Baton Rouge. In 1994, Geoghan was accused of molesting still more boys. In 1995, Geoghan allegedly molested yet another boy at the christening of the boy's sister.

In 1998, Geoghan was finally defrocked.

On May 2, 2001, a celebratory Mass welcomed Hughes as the archbishop-designate of New Orleans. After his deposition three weeks later, plaintiff attorneys for the Geoghan victims postponed further questioning of Hughes, pending the settlement of the claims with the Archdiocese of Boston.

On Jan. 3, Hughes was installed as Archbishop of New Orleans. His responsibilities increased. In Baton Rouge, there were 207,500 Catholics and 71 churches. In New Orleans, he leads an estimated 490,000 Catholics here and 142 church parishes.

Three days following Hughes' inauguration as archbishop, The Boston Globe published its expose on the Catholic Church scandals. On Jan. 17, Hughes returned to Boston to testify about the 1991 swimming pool incident at the criminal trial of Geoghan, who was convicted the following day of improperly touching a 10-year-old boy at the pool. Geoghan is now serving a 10-year prison term.

In Jan. 30 editions of The Clarion Herald, the bi-weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Hughes used his first column as archbishop to recount his role in the Geoghan scandal under the headline: "Clergy and the molestation of minors."

"The continued acceptance of John Geoghan for priestly assignment was a tragic error," Hughes wrote. "My predecessors and I thought we were addressing the issues at hand and providing for the appropriate protection of the potential victims. We had no knowledge of the extent of his abuse of children."

Hughes limited his Jan. 30 column to the previously reported Geoghan controversy and gave no indication of the soon-to-emerge scandal over a second priest, Father Paul Shanley. Among the records to emerge from that case is a Dec. 9, 1991, memorandum to Hughes from McCormack. "It is clear to me that Paul Shanley is a sick person," wrote McCormack.

Hughes may not have seen the last of plaintiff attorneys from his hometown. Following Cardinal Law's recent announcement of the withdrawal of the archdiocese from settlement talks with the Geoghan victims, the question for Hughes is: will the lawyers for Geoghan's victims resume their suspended deposition of the Archbishop of New Orleans?

Furthermore, Hughes is named in several other civil lawsuits filed in connection with Geoghan's molestations. Hughes is among the officials accused in these suits of negligence -- knowing of Geoghan's pattern of abuse and doing nothing to stop it.

Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, whose firm deposed Hughes last May and Cardinal Law earlier this month, did not return calls by presstime.

Hughes now vows "100 percent zero tolerance" for sexual abuse of children, a spokesperson said recently. Last week, the archdiocese announced that a review of more than 1,000 clergymen found that 12 may have sexually abused children over the past 50 years. Two of the 12 will soon be relieved of duty. The other 10 are retired, on restricted duty or otherwise inactive. The recent action makes it a total number of 15 archdiocesan priests and deacons who have been dismissed or disciplined in connection with scandals since Hughes was installed.

A review by an 11-member board of laypersons led by former state Attorney General William Guste urged stronger action against 10 priests and two deacons, than that taken by earlier archbishops: Schulte (1989­2000), Philip Hannan (1965­1989), John Patrick Cody (1964­1965) and Joseph Rummel (1935­1964).

Unlike the Geoghan case where Hughes acted based on summaries from other priests, Hughes personally reviewed the files of all 20 priests accused of sexual misconduct. "He reviewed all of the files having to do with credible cases," archdiocesan spokesman Maestri says.

Maestri has said the names of the 12 priests would not be released, because the men no longer have contact with children. When asked how the archdiocese could be certain of the safety of children unless the men were in jail or otherwise confined, Maestri qualified his earlier statements. "They have no more contact with children in terms of being a priest in this archdiocese," he says. "Obviously they are free to walk the streets."

CORRECTIONS: Our review of Rivertown Repertory Theatre's production of 1776 (Theater, May 14) contained several errors. Reggie Hendry, not John Brooks, plays the role of John Adams; Brooks plays John Hancock. The character of John Dickinson is from Pennsylvania, not Maryland, and the character of Edward Rutledge is from South Carolina, not Georgia. Gambit Weekly regrets the errors.
Hughes on Jan. 17, testifying in Geoghan's criminal trial - THE BOSTON GLOBE

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