Two decades later, Maryetta Dussourd remains overwhelmed by the guilt of it, how she saw the affable parish priest as such a strong role model for the seven boys she was raising that she unwittingly welcomed a sexual predator into her home.
Whatever the church knew about the Rev. John J. Geoghan in the late 1970s, Dussourd knew only that he was eager to help her with her three sons and her niece Diane’s four sons who were living with her family in a small Jamaica Plain apartment.
For nearly two years, Geoghan came by to help almost nightly, always clad in his Roman collar. For the longest time, the children were terrified about the abuse, but said nothing: Geoghan fondled them in their bedrooms, sometimes as he whispered bedtime prayers. The oldest was 12, the youngest 4.
She never suspected, and the guilt at times is all-consuming.
“It was my fault, my fault,” she said, as she cried on her couch. “I was responsible for my children and Diane’s children. It was me who loved him, who brought him into the house, it was me.”
She still struggles to come to grips with Geoghan’s betrayal. She weeps as she talks about her nephews, whom she has not seen for years because she cannot bear to face them. About how it damaged her marriage, which failed, after seven children and nearly 25 years. About how one of her victimized sons is homeless, lives out of a car, and has attempted suicide.
Once a devout Catholic, she stopped attending Mass long ago because she feels the church betrayed her and the children.
It began so differently. When she met Geoghan, about 1977, she said her life revolved around family and faith. Each week, she attended prayer meetings at three churches, including St. Andrew’s in Jamaica Plain, where Geoghan was assigned.
She took to Geoghan right away. “He looked like a little holy altar boy,” she said. Dussourd was proud and excited as Geoghan became close to her family, a dream fulfilled for such a religious family. He visited for the next two to three years.
Dussourd worked hard to please him. Geoghan mentioned that his uncle - a monsignor - had taken away his teddy bear when he was growing up. So for his birthday, she gave him a little blue teddy bear. He was delighted.
Then the children told their aunt, Margaret Gallant, they had been abused, and Gallant told Dussourd. She was stunned. Not Father Geoghan, who had blessed the innocent heads of her children at night. It couldn’t be true. But Geoghan admitted it to a pastor.
Her husband, a Baptist, was incensed. Before the couple married, he had to agree to allow the children to be raised Catholic. “He wanted to bolt up on to the altar and kill the guy,” said Dussourd.
For weeks, she wept constantly and wouldn’t leave her apartment. She found little help, or solace, from friends or the church. Parishioners shunned her, accusing her of causing scandal. Church officials urged her to be quiet, for the sake of her children - and Geoghan’s elderly mother. Don’t sue, they warned her, because no one will believe you.
But she did sue, finally, in 1997, and the church settled under terms that remain secret. But for Dussourd, now 57, that was no victory. “Everything you have taught your child about God and safety and trust - it is all destroyed,” she said.