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Former priest sentenced to nine to 10 years in sex abuse case

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) _ A former priest at the center of a sex-abuse scandal was described by a judge as a sexual predator who refused to admit he needed help as she sentenced him to nine to 10 years in prison for groping a youngster in a swimming pool.

Judge Sandra Hamlin said 66-year-old John Geoghan ``hid behind his collar'' as he preyed on his victims.

``This court has no doubt he's dangerous,'' Hamlin said Thursday. ``He engaged in what this court can only characterize as reprehensible and depraved behavior.''

Geoghan was sentenced to the maximum penalty for his conviction on indecent assault and battery charges but will serve six years behind bars; the rest will be suspended based on a sentencing law in effect at the time of the crime in 1991.

The victim, now a 20-year-old college junior, said in a statement before the sentencing that he was sickened by Geoghan's apparent lack of remorse.

The victim testified during the trial that Geoghan approached him at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club and offered to teach him how to dive.

After coaching him verbally for 10 or 15 minutes, the priest stuck his hand under the boy's shorts and squeezed his buttocks, the young man testified.

Geoghan's lawyer said his client was stunned by his prison sentence.

``I think he's a very hopeful and optimistic man,'' said Geoffrey Packard after Geoghan was sentenced Thursday. ``I think he was hoping and praying for the best.''

Packard said he would appeal Geoghan's conviction.

The criminal case is the only one against Geoghan to go to trial so far. He is awaiting trial in two more cases involving two boys and faces more than 80 civil lawsuits.

Meanwhile, the fate of a second criminal case against Geoghan is being determined at a hearing in Suffolk Superior Court that was to continue Friday. He is charged with two counts of raping a child about two decades ago.

Geoghan has been accused of sexually abusing 130 boys during three decades while church officials did little to stop him.

Geoghan ignited the scandal that has forced the Boston archdiocese to release names of priests who have been accused of pedophilia. Church members have called for Cardinal Bernard F. Law to resign, saying he protected child molesters.

Cardinal Law announced a ``zero tolerance'' policy and gave prosecutors the names of more than 80 active and former priests accused of abuse during the last four decades. Nine priests have been suspended since the new policy was announced, including an Abington priest on Wednesday.

Law, the nation's most senior Roman Catholic prelate after 18 years at the head of the fourth-largest archdiocese in the United States, also apologized to Geoghan's victims.

Geoghan did not testify during his trial, and no one testified on his behalf.

Geoghan's sister, Catherine Geoghan, who has steadfastly maintained her brother's innocence, clutched rosary beads while the sentence was read.

``I'm numb,'' she said afterward. ``It's very unjust, completely.''
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