Paul R. Shanley, the former Newton priest accused of child rape and advocating sex between men and boys, and Ronald H. Paquin, a former Salem priest serving a prison sentence for raping an altar boy, have been defrocked by Pope John Paul II, officials at the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston said yesterday.
Shanley, one of the central figures in the Boston clergy sex-abuse scandal, was told in a May 3 letter from Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley that he was permanently barred from priestly duties by the Vatican in February. The action means that Shanley, who was on administrative leave, will no longer receive financial support from the church and is forbidden to call himself a priest or perform the sacraments, except for hearing an emergency confession from a dying person.
The archdiocese also announced yesterday that the Vatican had taken the same action against Paquin, who was sentenced Dec. 31, 2002, to 12 to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to raping an altar boy in the 1980s and early 1990s.
"They are no longer to be referred to as a priest nor to exercise sacramental ministry, as they do not have the faculties of the church," said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for O'Malley.
Shanley is awaiting trial in Middlesex Superior Court on charges he sexually assaulted Gregory Ford, Paul Busa, and two other boys who worshiped at St. Jean's Parish in Newton in the 1980s. Shanley is free on $300,000 bail, and his trial has been tentatively set for October.
Ford's father, Rodney Ford, called the news of Shanley's defrocking "quite unexpected."
"We didn't think it would happen for a while," the elder Ford said during a brief telephone interview yesterday. "It's pretty obvious that the church moves in slow motion, but they obviously made the right decision here."
Earlier this month, the church settled lawsuits filed by the Fords, the Busas, and two other men and their families over Shanley's alleged assaults. The Fords received $1.4 million.
Ford said his grown son "didn't react one way or another" to the news and "just wants to get on with his life."
As a father, Rodney Ford said the news came as a relief.
"At least, Rome sees what's going on here and that he doesn't deserve the title of reverend or father or anything," he said. "Rome was well aware of what Shanley had done; they had known for a long time."
Shanley's lawyer, Frank Mondano, did not return telephone calls yesterday. One of Shanley's friends in the clergy called yesterday's announcement tragic and charged that the church had not given Shanley due process before revoking his priestly status.
"Everyone, whether they are innocent or guilty, needs to go through a fair process," said Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Maryland nun who was punished for her ministry to gays and lesbians. "Paul Shanley hasn't had his day in court yet in terms of the state, yet in terms of the church, there has been no fair process at all."
Once known for his street ministry to gay and troubled youth, Shanley became a focal point of the clergy sexual abuse scandal after plaintiffs' lawyers forced the archdiocese to release internal records showing that church officials knew that Shanley was the subject of multiple abuse allegations and that he had openly advocated sex between men and boys at a meeting attended by those who went on to found the North American Man Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA.
The May 3 letter to Shanley, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press, spelled out Shanley's removal from the church, including his release from his vow of celibacy.
"As a result of your dismissal, you are no longer eligible for any financial support or benefits from the Archdiocese of Boston," the letter states. "Both your regular stipend and your medical benefits will cease as of May 31, 2004. As a dismissed priest, you are dispensed from the obligation of clerical celibacy. You are also excluded from any exercise of sacred ministry, with the exception of hearing confessions of members of the faithful in danger of death."
Paquin received a similar letter, church officials said.
While the two men are no longer priests, church officials acknowledged yesterday that in granting them continued permission to hear the confessions of the dying in emergency cases, they were granting the pair powers not conferred to lay people.
Under church policy, a lay person trained as a Eucharistic minister may administer a last Holy Communion to a dying person, but if a priest is unavailable, a lay person is not allowed to hear that person's confession.
Instead, the church teaches that reciting a prayer of contrition and receiving Communion in effect replaces a final confession.