Experts: Convicted Sex Abusers Face Grave Danger in Prison

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The prison death Saturday of pedophile ex-priest John Geoghan (search) struck experts on clerical sex abuse as a sad but perhaps predictable result of imprisoning such a high-profile molester.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle (search), a canon lawyer turned victim advocate who has worked for two decades on priest abuse cases, said even offenders like Geoghan deserve protection in prison. Geoghan died after he was attacked by another inmate.

"I've got mixed feelings," Doyle said. "I do believe for somebody like a John Geoghan, they've done some grievous harm to people, but it's possible to put them in an incarcerated situation where their lives aren't in danger."

Geoghan had been in protective custody to shield him from the general prison population, but he still had some contact with other inmates, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kelly Nantel.

Jay R. Feierman, a psychiatrist for 20 years at the Servants of the Paraclete (search) in New Mexico, which treated abusive priests from around the country, said four of the 750 priests he saw through treatment were killed after they left the program.

He declined to discuss the specifics of the slayings, except to say that "their behavior probably contributed to their murder."

"It's a tragedy to have anybody murdered in prison, but a pedophile is a dead man walking in prison," said Feierman, who also worked for the New Mexico prison system. "Once you're identified as a sex offender, you're a marked man."

Offenders also are considered to be at high risk for suicide once their wrongdoing is exposed.

Ray Mouton, the attorney for former Louisiana priest and sex offender Gilbert Gauthe (search), feared the clergyman would kill himself and tried desperately to get him into treatment instead of just sending him to prison. Gauthe pleaded guilty in 1985 to molesting 11 boys, drawing national attention to clerical sex abuse for the first time.

Many prison systems do offer counseling for offenders. But Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk and psychiatrist who has worked with abuse victims and priest offenders, said Geoghan had already been through many treatment programs.

Sipe said he and his wife were on the staff of Seton Psychiatric Institute in Baltimore, Md., when Geoghan was hospitalized there in the late 1960s.

"If anyone had the opportunity for treatment, it's John Geoghan," Sipe said.

"Certainly his whole life is a tragedy," Sipe said. "This is another wake-up call to recognize how deep the scars of sexual abuse go."