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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 time.

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 diocese.

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 financial burden."

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 of recommendation.

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 context.

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 said.

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.



Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests