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Shanley Found Guilty of Child Rape

Paul Shanley, 74, the most prominent figure in the Boston clergy abuse scandal, faces life in prison. His accuser sobs after the verdict.

By Elizabeth Mehren - LA Times Staff Writer
February 8, 2005

CAMBRIDGE, Mass .— A jury Monday found defrocked priest Paul Shanley guilty of repeatedly raping a young boy at a Boston-area church during the 1980s.

The panel of seven men and five women deliberated for nearly 15 hours before convicting Shanley, 74, on two counts of child rape and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.

One of the most notorious figures in the Boston clerical abuse scandal, Shanley showed no emotion as the verdict was delivered. He was immediately placed into custody, his $300,000 bail revoked. Judge Stephen Neel said Shanley would be sentenced Feb. 15. He could receive life in prison.

Shanley's accuser — a 27-year-old firefighter who had asked not to be named during the two-week trial — buried his face in his hands and broke into sobs when the former priest was declared guilty. Holding hands with his wife, he left the court without comment.

Middlesex County Dist. Atty. Martha Coakley said the case was "the perfect storm of a child abuse situation," because it involved "a priest with a predilection for little boys … an authority figure who was well-loved."

Nevertheless, Coakley said, securing a conviction was "an uphill battle," because the case relied on old memories and a young man who until recently had not spoken publicly about the abuse.

Defense attorney Frank Mondano said he would appeal the verdict.

Shanley's accuser was one of four men who said the once-popular priest had molested them at St. Jean's Roman Catholic parish in Newton, near Boston. Three of the men backed out or were dropped by prosecutors before the trial began, leaving only the firefighter to testify against his former pastor.

Alternately tearful and combative, the accuser testified about abuse that began in 1983, when he was 6 years old and attending catechism classes at St. Jean's. He said that Shanley orally or digitally raped him in the church bathroom, the pews, the confessional and the rectory.

Prosecutor Lynn Rooney told jurors that Shanley repeatedly had told the victim: "If you tell, no one will believe you."

The accuser said the abuse continued until he was 12 years old. But he said he had repressed all memory of it until 2001, when he was in the Air Force and stationed in Colorado. After he learned of two Boston newspaper articles describing alleged sexual abuse by Shanley, the accuser said, his memories "came flooding back."

Mondano argued that the accuser had been motivated by greed and a desire for attention. Last year, the firefighter accepted a $500,000 settlement from the Archdiocese of Boston.

In Shanley's defense, Mondano called just one witness: UC Irvine psychology professor Elizabeth Loftus, who questioned the validity of repressed memory.

In the clerical abuse scandal that erupted in Boston three years ago, Shanley was the most prominent among scores of priests accused of molesting children over a period of at least four decades.

Many of the charges were validated in previously secret documents maintained by the archdiocese that showed church officials knew of sexual abuse complaints against the priests. Rather than reassigning the priests to jobs where they would not work with children, church officials moved the accused from parish to parish.

Abuse allegations against Shanley dated to at least 1967, according to the church files. The documents also showed that church leaders knew Shanley had attended a 1979 meeting of men involved in sexual relationships with young males. That meeting led to the founding of NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Love Assn.

In the 1970s, Shanley worked as a "street priest" who ministered to troubled adolescents. He kept his hair long, wore jeans and rode a motorcycle.

The Boston abuse scandal led to an $85-million settlement by the archdiocese with more than 500 victims. Most of the priests named in civil lawsuits managed to avoid criminal trials because the statute of limitations on the alleged abuse had run out.

But Shanley had moved from Massachusetts to California in 1990, stopping the clock on the state's 15-year statute of limitations. He was arrested in San Diego in May 2002 and extradited to Massachusetts. He was defrocked by the Vatican last year.

The archdiocese released a statement Monday: "It is important for the Archdiocese of Boston, in this moment, to again apologize for the crimes and harm perpetrated against children by priests who held the trust and esteem of families and the community."

Shanley's niece Teresa, who mortgaged her house to help her uncle make bail, attended the trial each day.

"There aren't any winners here today, only losers," she said after the verdict was announced. "We're no closer to finding out the truth, or why it even happened, than we were before."

Another Shanley supporter, Paul Shannon, said: "Given the climate of the times, there was no way a whole jury would find him innocent. I was hoping for a hung jury."

Bill Gately, co-coordinator of the New England chapter of SNAP — Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests — said he was "elated" by the verdict. "Any time you can get a child molester off the street is a day to be happy," he said.

Ann Hagan Webb, also co-coordinator of SNAP in New England, said Shanley's conviction would lend strength to a movement to abolish statutes of limitation in child abuse cases in Massachusetts. A bill to end such statutes is pending in the Legislature.

"Only 2% of the [pedophile] priests ever get inside the courtroom because of the statute of limitations," Webb said.

"This decision says that there can be justice," she said. "So many of us had to count on this case for our justice, because our own cases could not be brought."


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests