Bishop John D’Arcy, Who Sounded Alarm on Sex Abuse, Dies at 80
By Paul Vitello
Published February 4, 2013
Bishop John D’Arcy, who was ignored by his superiors in the 1980s when he warned about priests who later figured in the sex-abuse scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, died on Sunday at his home in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he had led the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for 24 years. He was 80.
The cause was cancer, said Sean McBride, a diocese spokesman.
Bishop D’Arcy, who retired in 2009, drew national attention that year when he led a boycott to protest the University of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama to speak at its commencement ceremony.
Bishop D’Arcy, whose diocese encompassed the university campus, objected that the president’s abortion-rights views were in opposition to Roman Catholic teachings.
In Boston, where he spent the first half of his clerical career, Bishop D’Arcy, then an auxiliary bishop, wrote a series of letters to his superiors raising alarms about priests he considered troubled and dangerous. The priests were being reassigned to new pastoral duties despite their known histories of substance abuse, sexually abusing children or both, and he urged his superiors to reconsider.
The letters became public in the early 2000s when archdiocese documents were released by court order as a result of lawsuits.
In one of his bluntest letters, Bishop D’Arcy asked the newly appointed archbishop of Boston, Bernard F. Law, to rescind the appointment of the Rev. John J. Geoghan as pastor of a parish in Weston, Mass.
“Father Geoghan has a history of homosexual activity with young boys,” Bishop D’Arcy wrote to the archbishop on Dec. 7, 1984.
Father Geoghan was later accused of sexual abuse by 130 former parishioners, many of them from the Weston parish. He was strangled to death in a Massachusetts state prison by a fellow inmate in 2003 while serving a sentence for child sexual abuse.
Archbishop Law, who became a cardinal in 1985, said he could not recall Bishop D’Arcy’s letter when asked about it years later in depositions concerning the abuse cases.
Bishop D’Arcy wrote cautionary letters about three other priests: Thomas Forry, Richard Buntel and Robert Meffan, all of whom were later accused publicly of sexually abusing children.
In 1985, after writing a second letter about Father Geoghan to Cardinal Law, Bishop D’Arcy was elevated from auxiliary bishop to full bishop status and appointed to the post in Fort Wayne-South Bend.
He never spoke publicly about his letters.
Terrence McKiernan, founder of the Web site bishopsaccountability.org, a repository of church documents released as a result of lawsuits and government investigations of sexual abuse by priests, said letters like Bishop D’Arcy’s were rare.
There have been many internal memos about priests whom fellow clerics considered liabilities to the church, Mr. McKiernan said in an interview on Monday. “But I have read through thousands, tens of thousands of these documents,” he added, “and seen very few with D’Arcy’s level of expression of concern for the victims.”
John Michael D’Arcy was born on Aug. 13, 1932, in Boston, and ordained in 1957. He served as a parish priest for nine years before being appointed the vicar for spiritual development at St. John’s Seminary in Boston.
In that role, in 1979, he recommended a comprehensive rethinking of the archdiocese’s system of recruiting men for the priesthood. Among other things, he urged that candidates undergo psychological testing, in part to screen out those who might not be sincere in taking vows of celibacy.
A 2003 report on sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese, issued by Attorney General Thomas Reilly of Massachusetts, concluded, “It does not appear that the archdiocese adopted Bishop D’Arcy’s recommendations in any meaningful way.”
Bishop D’Arcy’s boycott of Mr. Obama’s address at Notre Dame was one of two he led at the university when he was bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. In the other, in 1992, he protested the university’s plans to give an award to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, again because of Mr. Moynihan’s abortion-rights views.
When Mr. Obama was invited to give the commencement address in 2009, Bishop D’Arcy declared in an open letter to the university, “Notre Dame must ask itself if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth.”
Neither boycott changed the university’s commencement plans, though both sparked national debate among Catholics.
“He was very clear in his thinking, and never hid his views from anyone, no matter whom,” said the Rev. John Sassani, a parish priest in Boston, who was a friend.
Bishop D’Arcy’s survivors include two sisters: Sister Anne D’Arcy, a nun with the Sisters of Saint Joseph, and Joan Sheridan.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 6, 2013
Because of an editing error, an obituary on Tuesday about Bishop John D’Arcy misstated his position in the Roman Catholic Church in the early 2000s, when letters he had written to his superiors in the Archdiocese of Boston about priests he considered troubled or dangerous were made public. He was bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., at the time; he was no longer an auxiliary bishop in Boston. The obituary also misstated the length of the sentence given to the Rev. John J. Geoghan, one of the priests Bishop D’Arcy had warned about, who was later convicted of child sexual abuse. It was 9 to 10 years, not life.