California diocese sues Archdiocese of Boston
Bishops did not reveal Shanley's history
Friday, Apr 4, 2003
A California diocese is suing the Archdiocese of Boston for
not disclosing that a priest who transferred to the West Coast
had a history of sexual molestation. The priest, the Rev.
Paul Shanley, was under the watch of Cardinal Bernard Law
and his top aides, including Bishop John McCormack, at the
With its lawsuit, the Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif.,
is looking for the Boston archdiocese to cover the expenses
of a legal claim. The case was brought by a California man
who is accusing Shanley of forcing him to have sex with him
and with other men.
It's reportedly the first time a diocese has sued another
The case is also significant, experts said, because canon
law provides a private means for resolving disputes between
dioceses. The San Bernardino diocese is making a public statement
by going through the civil courts.
"This action is about determining responsibility, not
casting blame," the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for
the San Bernardino diocese, told The New York Times. "We
have no responsibility in the actions that caused the lawsuit,
so we don't believe our parishioners should have to bear its
Shanley moved from the Boston archdiocese to California in
1990 with a letter from Boston church officials saying he
was a priest in good standing. At the time, McCormack was
working under Law in the Boston archdiocese, and Shanley asked
McCormack for that reference.
"In closing," Shanley wrote McCormack in 1989,
"let me summarize what I hope to receive from you."
The first item of the four on Shanley's list was the letter
McCormack's colleague, the Most Rev. Robert Banks, wrote
the letter Shanley had requested.
Church documents have since revealed that Boston church officials
had received allegations about Shanley dating back to the
1960. McCormack, for one, had received a complaint in 1985
about public statements Shanley had made advocating sex between
men and boys.
McCormack said in a court deposition last year that he didn't
aggressively pursue the complaint against Shanley because
he accepted Shanley's explanation that he had been talking
only about his work with street kids and prostitutes. The
complainant, Shanley told McCormack, had quoted him out of
McCormack was not available yesterday to respond to news
of the lawsuit against his former archdiocese. His spokesman,
Pat McGee, said McCormack is not to blame for the lack of
information provided California church leaders because he
did not know the extent of Shanley's past sexual offenses
until 1993, long after Shanley had moved to the West Coast.
The man alleging that Shanley abused him in California is
suing the dioceses on both coasts. San Bernardino officials
have not turned up evidence of the abuse, but they have said
settling the claim could cost them as much as $12 million.
Such a large settlement would wipe out their resources, they
The California church is in essence shifting the legal burden
to the Boston archdiocese by filing something known as a cross-complaint.
The lawsuit accuses the Boston archdiocese of engaging in
"misrepresentation and suppression of information"
and "active misconduct and negligence," by not revealing
the details of Shanley's background.
Church experts said yesterday that the case shows that internal
fractures among the nation's bishops, which have until now
been confined to closed-door meetings, increasingly are becoming
public. Some wondered whether this action would be imitated
by other dioceses trying to settle claims against one another.
Shanley was returned to Massachusetts by the police in May
and charged in Massachusetts with raping four boys at a Newton,
Mass., church from 1979 to 1989. He has pleaded not guilty
and is free on bail awaiting trial.