Boston Diocese Protected Priest Long Linked to Abuse

New York Times/April 9, 2002
By Pam Belluck

Boston -- High-ranking officials in the Boston Archdiocese vouched for the character of a priest when he was transferred to California and later New York, even though they knew he had been accused of sexual abuse over 30 years, according to documents released today.

The documents, provided by a lawyer representing accusers who obtained them under court order from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, paint a picture of how church officials at the highest levels knew for years about accusations of sexual abuse against the priest, the Rev. Paul Shanley, but allowed him to work as a priest and have contact with children.

In many ways the documents are more detailed and incriminating to church officials than the papers released in the case of John J. Geoghan, who was shuttled from one parish to another in the Boston area before being defrocked and convicted of indecent assault.

Church officials declined to comment today on the documents but said in a statement that "the archdiocese has learned from the painful experience of the inadequate policies and procedures of the past."

Father Shanley, now 70 and apparently living in San Diego, could not be found for comment. But diocesan documents refer to him as not disputing accusations that he had molested teenagers in at least three cases.

The case of Father Shanley extended well beyond the borders of the Boston Archdiocese. The documents released today show that Boston church officials told their counterparts in San Bernardino, Calif., that Father Stanley was a priest "in good standing" who "has no problem that would be a concern to your diocese" as he was being transferred there in 1990. In addition, the documents show that Father Shanley told Boston Archdiocese officials he was performing baptisms and leading youth retreats in his new position.

In 1995, supplying little, if any, information about the background of Father Shanley, who was still attached to the archdiocese, Boston church officials allowed him to be acting director of a Catholic guest house for students and clergy members in Manhattan. Within a few months of Father Shanley's arrival in New York, officials with the New York Archdiocese learned of the priest's background but were told by Boston officials that "Father Shanley's sexual acting out appears to have ceased in part due to a prostate condition," the documents show.

The documents, which include letters and internal archdiocese memos, show that the Boston officials received the first of about 15 complaints about Father Shanley in 1967, from another priest who provided the names and phone numbers of three boys whom he said Father Shanley had taken to a secluded cabin in the woods.

And the documents show that in the 1970's, the Boston Archdiocese received information that Father Shanley was giving public and impassioned defenses of pedophilia, including comments at what was apparently the formative meeting in Boston of the North American Man-Boy Love Association in 1979.

In another speech, in 1977, according to a letter to the archdiocese from a woman in the audience, Father Shanley, who at the time was in charge of the archdiocese's ministry to alienated youths, discussed pedophilia. In the letter, he is quoted as saying, "The adult is not the seducer - the `kid' is the seducer, and further the kid is not traumatized by the act per se, the kid is traumatized when the police and authorities `drag' the kid in for questioning."

The documents released today are the strongest indication that the Boston Archdiocese followed a pattern of inaction and secrecy in its handling of priests who were the subject of sexual abuse complaints. Many of the memos and letters were written by senior archdiocesan officials who are now bishops of their own dioceses, including Bishop John B. McCormack of New Hampshire and Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis.

In January, documents released in the Geoghan case showed that church officials knew about Father Geoghan's admitted pedophilia, but allowed him to return to parish work after treatment.

Like the Geoghan files, the Shanley records portray an archdiocese that was more concerned about avoiding scandal and being compassionate toward its priests than it was in counseling or even contacting the victims.

Both Cardinal Bernard F. Law and his predecessor, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, were aware of many of the accusations against Father Shanley, the documents suggest. Cardinal Law also received a memo in 1995 referring to an assessment that was made at the Institute for Living, a treatment center in Connecticut, two years earlier that found that Father Shanley "has a great deal of psychological pathology."

Yet as late as 1997, even after the archdiocese had settled at least one sexual abuse case against Father Shanley and had several others pending, Cardinal Law wrote a letter to Cardinal John J. O'Connor that supported Father Shanley being chosen for a permanent position at Leo House, the New York guest house.

And the documents suggest that Boston officials were well aware that California and New York was taking a a problem priest off their hands. "If he came back I do not know what we would do with him," wrote Bishop Alfred Hughes in a 1990 internal memo discussing whether Father Shanley should be allowed to return to Boston from California.

The documents were released today by Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer who received them from the archdiocese as part of a lawsuit on behalf of a man, Greg Ford, 24, who said he was molested by Father Shanley from 1983 to 1989.

"All of the suffering caused by Paul Shanley over four decades didn't have to happen," Mr. MacLeish said. "This man was a monster in the Archdiocese of Boston for many years. He had beliefs about pedophilia that no rational person could defend."

Mr. Ford and another client of Mr. MacLeish, Paul Busa, also 24, say that beginning at the age of 6, they were pulled out of catechism classes by Father Shanley each week at St. John the Evangelist Church in Newton. Mr. Busa said in an interview on Friday that Father Shanley molested him in the bathroom, the rectory or the confessional, sometimes while he had Mr. Ford and another boy, Anthony Driscoll, waiting in another part of the church.

"He called it `special duties,' " Mr. Busa said. "I remember him telling me that if I told anybody, nobody would believe me."

Robert A. Sherman, Mr. MacLeish's partner in the firm Greenberg Traurig, said that in recent weeks 11 accusers of Father Shanley had come forward to the firm; added to the cases described in the diocesan records, that brings the total number of complaints against him to 26 so far.

There have been no criminal charges brought against Father Shanley, though Mr. Ford's lawyers have taken his case to the police. But the Boston Archdiocese has settled at least three abuse lawsuits involving Father Shanley, at least one of them in 1991, while he was in California and before he went to New York.

Father Shanley was a colorful and controversial priest in his early years, earning the nickname the "hippie priest" for his long hair and outspoken views, including his public rejection of the church's condemnation of homosexuality.

In 1979, after being told about Father Shanley's activity with the Man-Boy Love group, Cardinal Medeiros removed him from the alienated-youth ministry, documents show, but made him an associate pastor at the Newton church.

In 1981, a parishioner, Jacqueline Gavreau, began complaining loudly to archdiocesan officials and others that Father Shanley had groped a young man she knew, Ms. Gavreau said in an interview. One of the memos released today, dated 1982, indicates that a bishop advised another senior chancery official to pay no attention to her calls, saying, "Let her stay hanging on the phone."

In 1984, Father Shanley was promoted to pastor of St. John's. In 1986 and again in 1987, Ms. Gavreau said she confronted Cardinal Law about Father Shanley at church events.

In 1988, according to notes written by Bishop Robert Banks, a patient at a hospital where Father Shanley was chaplain complained that the priest "was coming on to him" by graphically discussing sado-masochism.

In 1989, when a decision was made to transfer Father Shanley from Newton to California, Cardinal Law wrote him a letter praising his "impressive record."

In 1991, while Father Shanley was in San Bernardino, an internal memo from Father John B. McCormack, now Bishop McCormack, who was the senior church official responsible for handling sexual abuse complaints, said, "It is clear to me that Paul Shanley is a sick person."

But Boston church officials did not tell California officials about Father Shanley's problems until 1993, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the San Bernardino Diocese, who said Father Shanley was promptly removed from his job.

Father Shanley was also removed from active ministry by the Boston Archdiocese, but he was allowed to go to Leo House in New York. In December 1995, Sister Anne Karlin of Leo House, got a call from one of Father Shanley's accusers, and wrote to Cardinal Law asking if the molesting accusations were true. According to a memo, the archdiocese responded by convincing Sister Karlin that "Leo House is a good placement for Father Shanley." The archdiocese believed he was being supervised at Leo House and that there was little opportunity to be with children.

"As I recall, there was a question as to whether or not there were children there," said Msgr. Edward O'Donnell, head of priest personnel in New York at the time. "And I visited the place and made inquiries and was told that children didn't live there and did not frequent that place. So from that point of view, I probably did say there didn't seem to be any danger. I didn't know what his background was in any detail.

"I just knew he had a problem - I didn't know what it was."

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