BOSTON – A judge dismissed two child rape charges against the former Roman Catholic priest at the center of the Boston Archdiocese sex scandal Thursday, saying prosecutors had not filed them in time.
The defrocked priest, John Geoghan, had argued the 1999 indictment alleging he twice raped a 10-year-old boy between 1980 and 1984 came after the statute of limitations had expired.
Suffolk County Judge Margaret Hinkle agreed. County prosecutors said they had made no decision whether to appeal.
The boy in the latest 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 already is serving a 9- to 10-year sentence for fondling another 10-year-old boy at a pool. He still faces a third criminal trial for abuse of a child and 80 civil lawsuits.
The archdiocese is at the center of a growing sex abuse scandal that broke wide open after reports that church officials ignored warnings about 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. Church officials across the country are looking into similar allegations.
Prosecutors in Boston have said many of the allegations will be difficult to investigate because of the time that has past, and warned that many of them many not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired.
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.
In the latest case, Geoghan's attorney, Geoffrey Packard, said a 10-year statute of limitations should have started running in February 1986 when the boy, then 11, first reported to his mother that Geoghan fondled him.
Prosecutors maintained the clock should have started when the rape was reported in 1989. Charges weren't filed until 1999.
Geoghan shouldn't have to suffer for investigators' failure to quickly uncover the alleged rapes, Packard argued.
"These technicalities are like constitutional rights," he said Thursday. "They apply to everybody and it doesn't matter what you're charged with, it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter how unpopular you are, how vehement the opposition is."
The Legislature in 1996 extended the statute of limitations to 15 years.
According to prosecutors, Geoghan abused the boy after befriending the family in the early 1980s. Geoghan would take the boy on outings, including trips for ice cream and swimming, and would visit the boy's house at his bedtime, spending time in the boy's bedroom with the lights out. Geoghan allegedly abused the boy during those times.
The Department of Social Services, following up on the boy's first abuse claims in 1986, interviewed Geoghan. He denied touching the boy, but said he had been naked with him in the shower, prosecutors said.
In her ruling, Hinkle said the boy's claim to social service workers of "multiple sexual acts" in 1986 was enough to trigger the statute of limitations.
In other developments:
— St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali said a computer belonging to a priest in suburban Florissant has been seized as part of a child pornography investigation. The Rev. John Hess has left his parish. Two other priests in the diocese have been removed in the past week amid allegations of child molestation.
— A spokesman for the Pittsburgh diocese said Bishop Donald Wuerl has recently removed several priests from the ministry because of accusations of child sexual abuse. The spokesman, the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, wouldn't say how many priests had been removed.
Officials in five of Pennsylvania's eight dioceses say at least 58 priests have faced credible accusations of abuse over the past several decades.
— In Maine, a second complaint was filed Wednesday against the Rev. Michael Doucette, one of two priests who last month publicly confessed to sexually abusing a minor.