Paul Shanley Passes and the World is Safer

The death of Paul Shanley, called the “poster boy” of the Catholic Church abuse scandal, means one very dangerous perpetrator is gone forever and children are safer.

While Shanley became famous for his crimes, he is one of literally thousands of Catholic priests who are known to have abused children. There are, we believe, many more still unaccounted for who remain threats. We call on all levels of law enforcement to stay vigilant. There are other Shanleys out there, today, preying upon children.

As bad as Shanley was, his sexual predations were well known to his Bishops and his fellow priests. His crimes were enabled by those authorities and that clerical network. His terrible success at abusing literally hundreds of children was due to the Bishops under whom he worked. They looked the other way, and when necessary, relocated him away from law enforcement. They silenced his victims with gag orders and threats. He was a malignant tumor that simply spread a destructive disease and the Bishops who enabled him facilitated that destruction.

His terrible legacy stains the American Catholic Church. It is a stain that will never be totally removed. His life, his crimes, his time behind bars means little compared to the pain he caused his victims. The Pope, all American Cardinals, all American Archbishops, and Bishops, past and present, should be ashamed. They should be ashamed of what Shanley did, of what he represents as a predator and a criminal, and of what he showed to be the Church hierarchy’s abject moral failure. The Catholic Church still has not atoned for those failures, as evidenced by the Pennsylvania Grand Jury and Diocesan lists of abusive clergy revealing hundreds and hundreds of priests not unlike Shanley, victimizing tens of thousands of children.

As advocates, we have very little faith that today’s Catholic Church is any different from the Catholic Church where Shanley operated with such horrible impunity.  But we must maintain hope. There are arrests of priests every year, like clockwork, for sexually abusing kids. At least now some of them go to jail. There are clergy who flee prosecution every single year, abetted by their Bishops. At least now those Bishops risk being arrested for their actions. There are priests who get moved and victims who are silenced even today.  But at least now when a media story reveals those crimes, more people now believe the victim instead of the perpetrator.

If our society has been educated at all since Shanley’s story became news, it is that the abuse crisis in the United States is not an American problem. There are Shanley’s all over the world: Germany, Chile, Ireland, Guam, Australia, etc. The corruption at the highest levels of the Church is evident in men like the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a peer of Shanley’s, who rose to the top of the Catholic pyramid and was an elector of Popes. McCarrick’s rise and only recent downfall is proof to us that the Catholic Church remains a dangerous place for children, eighteen years after Shanley’s unmasking.

Paul Shanley may have finally met his Maker, but his life serves as a reminder that all is not well in the Catholic Church, even today.

CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP California ([email protected], 415-341-6417)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is

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