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Spotlight reporter recalls the real heart of the church scandal, the victims

When I heard the news that Cardinal Bernard Law was dead, a torrent of memories immediately washed over me:

Of that morning in January 2002 when my colleagues and I on the Globe Spotlight Team revealed that Law had covered up decades of child sexual abuse; of that day a year later when he resigned as archbishop of Boston and fled to the Vatican; and of the sumptuous rewards he received upon arriving in Rome, where he served as a prominent arch priest, even as he became a living symbol of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

But mostly, I thought about the victims of the abusive priests Law had shuffled from parish to parish, as he hid their crimes and placed protecting the church high above his responsibility to safeguard children who had trusted their priests as caring father figures and representatives of God.


Tragically, several of those victims are no longer with us. One is Patrick McSorley, who was molested when he was only 12 years old by one of the most notorious abusers in the Boston Archdiocese, the Rev. John. J. Geoghan.

In the summer of 2001, McSorley was one of the first victims who agreed to speak with me, and I will never forget him. After meeting with me in attorney Mitchell Garabedian’s office, in a scene portrayed in the movie “Spotlight,” McSorley told me a story that shook me to my core.

Shortly after his father’s suicide, McSorley said, Geoghan appeared at his apartment in a Hyde Park public housing project to express his sympathies to his mother and offered to take young Patrick out for an ice cream cone.

On the way home, McSorley continued, Geoghan patted his upper leg as he consoled him over his father’s death. But then the priest slid his hand into Patrick’s crotch and grabbed him there. “I froze up,” McSorley told me. “I was petrified,” especially when Geoghan began masturbating.


Then, when Geoghan dropped McSorley off at his mother’s apartment, he offered some telling advice, gently suggesting that they keep what had happened in Geoghan’s care just between them. “He said, ‘We’re very good at keeping secrets,’ ” McSorley recalled.

The courage Patrick showed by speaking with me, and allowing me to quote him by name, inspired many other victims to reveal the secrets about abusive priests they had kept for too long. But less than two years after meeting with me, McSorley was dead, the victim of a drug overdose and his inability to shake the memory of a priest who had violated his body and his soul and robbed him of the chance to live his own life.

Fortunately, Law’s death also reminded me of the many other victims — the true survivors — who have been able to heal and lead fulfilling lives. And I’m lucky to count several as friends, including and especially Phil Saviano and Alexa MacPherson.

I met Phil with the other members of the Spotlight Team when he visited our office in the summer of 2001 and told us about being repeatedly abused by the Rev. David Holley at just 11 and 12 years old. Just as important, Phil also shared the information he had collected about other abusive priests as the founder of the New England chapter of the support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.


Over the next few months, I spent a lot of time with Phil, going over his impeccable research, and we had some trying moments when the team temporarily shelved the investigation to help cover the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

But Phil kept faith in us and continued to help when we returned to the story, right up to the morning of Jan. 6, 2002, when we published the first of the 600 stories leading to Law’s resignation. Even today, Phil remains a welcome fixture in our lives, appearing with us in panel discussions about clergy sexual abuse, where he can be expected to offer his insights into the lives of survivors and the struggles they sometime endure as they attempt to heal.

I’m also grateful for my friendship with Alexa MacPherson, another indefatigable advocate for survivors of clergy sexual abuse who lives her life with passion and joy, despite the abuse that she and her brother suffered at the hands of a visiting priest from Thailand, the Rev. Peter Kanchong.

During the years following the story I wrote about MacPherson and her family’s horrific experiences, MacPherson would occasionally drop by the Globe’s old offices in Dorchester for a cafeteria lunch and a welcome catch-up visit. The last time we met there, about two years ago, she took a few selfies. Recently, she posted one on my Facebook page, with a message I will treasure forever:


“Love this guy for giving me a louder voice than I already had!” MacPherson wrote. “Keep on exposing the truth and giving the little people the exposure we need to speak up against all of the wrongs in the world that we are trying to make right!”

Michael Rezendes can be reached at michael.rezendes@globe.com.