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SHANLEY VERDICT: Yes. Verdict gives other victims the courage to come forward

Knight Ridder Newspapers
February 13, 2005

(KRT) - Thirty minutes after a Massachusetts jury found ex-priest Paul Shanley guilty of molesting a boy, I got a call from a man who was also abused by a priest. ``I've never told anyone except my wife,'' he said. ``That verdict gave me the strength to finally tell someone else.''

To me, that proved that the Shanley verdict was indeed a victory for us all. Anything that makes it even slightly less difficult for wounded abuse survivors to come forward is progress.

Because of archaic and rigid statutes of limitations, very few abusive clergy ever see the inside of a courtroom. Because of timid prosecutors and excessive deference, virtually no complicit church officials have.

So the mere fact that Shanley faced criminal charges at all was, in itself, at least a partial victory for the tens of thousands of clergy molestation victims, many of whom continue to suffer in shame, silence, and self-blame even now.

The fact that a jury unanimously declared Shanley guilty is even more significant. Not too many years ago, it was unthinkable that average citizens could convict a cleric of such horrific crimes.

Most clergy molestation victims disclose their private horror to no one but a spouse, sibling or dear friend.

Most never pursue criminal or civil charges. Most just try to muddle along, cope with their pain, and try to forget (often using addictions like booze, drugs, sex or work). And those who do speak up most often simply want some acknowledgement that yes, a terrible crime (usually avoidable, had church authorities acted sooner) was committed against them.

It's rare to get that kind of admission from a bishop, or even a simple ``I'm sorry for what you endured and for how you're still suffering.'' So some of us take legal action. For many, that can ultimately be very healing.

This is not to minimize the public safety benefit of putting Shanley behind bars or on probation. Despite his age, he must be considered a threat. The mere passage of time doesn't magically cure a compulsive predator. But to the wounded and often fragile psyches of people like me, once trusting but severely violated Catholics, the Shanley verdict is a ray of hope.

It reminds us that when victims stay silent, nothing changes, but when victims come forward, sometimes justice is possible and more pain is prevented.

It reminds us that when it's time to report our victimization, it's better to go to our flawed but time-tested, open, impartial American justice system, rather to a new, untested, secretive and biased internal church process.

On the down side, Shanley's depravity has deflected attention away from even greater depravity: the inexcusable inaction by church officials who knew about or suspected sex crimes but did nothing to protect innocent kids and vulnerable adults. That's where our attention should be focused.

Shanley will never be a priest again. But four or five of the clerics who shielded him and rebuffed his victims still are. In fact, they're now bishops. There will be no real ``victory'' for men and women who have been raped by priests and ignored by bishops until these men - top church officials - are no longer in positions where they can put vulnerable parishioners at risk.
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David Clohessy of St. Louis is the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He and his brothers were molested by a mid-Missouri priest in the 1960s and 1970s. Clohessy can be reached through the group's Web site: SNAPnetwork.org. He wrote this for the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.


© 2005, Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.).

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests