April 1–9, 2002
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Dozens more allege abuse by late priest
By Sacha Pfeiffer
In the last week alone, more than two dozen alleged victims of the late
Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham have come forward, some with accounts of how
they fruitlessly complained about his compulsive molestation of children
during the first of six parish assignments Birmingham had in 29 years
as a priest.
By Eric Convey
Men alleging abuse by the late-Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham and women who
said they tried to stop it by warning high-level church officials 30 years
ago fired fresh cover-up charges at top officials from the Archdiocese
of Boston yesterday.
By Matt Carroll
Cardinal Bernard F. Law and a retired monsignor were added as defendants
yesterday to a lawsuit that now includes 14 alleged victims of the late
Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, with the two officials accused of allowing
Birmingham to continue serving in parishes despite knowledge of his sexual
By Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington
Damning internal church documents on the Rev. Paul R. Shanley make clear that the Archdiocese of Boston knew the priest was a child rapist yet devoted large sums of money and decades of personnel resources to cover up his crimes.
The documents also show that Shanley spoke in favor of sex between men and boys at a formative 1978 meeting in Boston of the "Man Boy Lovers of North America," a precursor of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA.
Shanley, now 71, was last known to be living in San Diego and working as a volunteer police officer, but is believed to have fled the city as word of his sordid sexual history became public.
Released yesterday during a dramatic 2 1-2-hour presentation on live television, the records also include one unannounced bombshell:
Shanley stated in a Sept. 25, 1995, letter to one of his clerical supervisors, Rev. Brian Flatley, that he was himself "sexually abused as a teenager and later as a seminarian" by a priest and by the "predecessor to one of the two cardinals who now debate my fate."
He did not identify the cleric who allegedly abused him, but the cardinals he was referring to as debating his future were Bernard Cardinal Law and John Cardinal O'Connor.
The documents also reveal:
- Shanley admitted openly to raping and sodomizing minors when confronted by church investigators under Boston's two past archbishops, Humberto Cardinal Medeiros and Law.
Despite deep concerns about his proclivities expressed by therapists and others, he received positive referrals from Law to ministries in San Bernadino, Calif., and in New York City, where he spent the years from 1990 to 1997.
In handwritten reports from physicians who treated Shanley, the doctors told the church Shanley "admits to substance of complaints - sexual activity with 4 adolescent males . . . over the years," according to a memo dated March 3, 1994. The memo also describes "oral and anal rape" with a youth who visited Shanley for pastoral counseling in Roxbury.
A similar memo, dated Nov. 5, 1983, also says Shanley "doesn't dispute the substance" of those or other allegations of child rape.
Catholic leaders in California, where Shanley served in the early 1990s, said they received no warning that Shanley had admnitted to sexual misconduct, and the documents indicate Shanley was involved in youth activities there.
At Leo House, a home for transients in Manhattan, Shanley was almost named executive director in 1997 - a move that was forestalled by John Cardinal O'Connor over fear that Shanley's past would surface and lead to bad "notoriety" for the Archdiocese of New York.
- Shanley defended "man-boy sex" publicly in his role as a "street priest" and minister to "sexual minorities" as early as 1970. He openly associated with members of a pro-pederasty group founded in Boston that became known as NAMBLA in the 1980s.
At the December 1978 convention that led to the founding of the pre-NAMBLA group, Shanley publicly told the story of a boy who "began to fall apart" and experience "psychic demise" after his adult male sex partner was jailed for having sex with the youth.
"We have our convictions upside down if we are truly concerned with boys," Shanley said at the time, the files indicate. "The 'cure' does far more damage."
The "man-boy" conference and Shanley's quotations were reported in GaysWeek in February 1979 under the headline "Men & Boys: The Boston Conference." Medeiros received a letter from attorney Paul McGeady of New York City, complaining about the quotes and including the newspaper, on April 2 of that year.
Also present at the conference was one of the co-founders of NAMBLA, who goes by the pseudonym Socrates. The Herald reported Sunday that at least one Shanley accuser says he was introduced to the priest in the mid-1970s by Socrates, and that Shanley often quoted from NAMBLA-style literature while enticing boys to have sex with him.
Two years before the 1979 warning letter from McGeady, in 1977, Medeiros was also alerted by Jeanne Sweeney of Rochester, N.Y., to a speech by Shanley in which he said "the kid is the seducer" in sexual encounters between adults and children, and in which the priest purportedly endorsed bestiality.
On April 12, 1979, after reviewing the GaysWeek article, the cardinal told Shanley he was being transferred to St. Jean's-St. John's Parish in Newton, where many plaintiffs allege he raped them, including Gregory Ford, 24, of Newton. Ford is currently pursuing criminal charges against Shanley, and it was his civil suit that forced the disclosure of the documents presented yesterday by MacLeish.
- In November 1978, Shanley's activities as a prominent street priest who lectured openly about homosexuality and sex with minors caught the attention of the Vatican. In response to a letter from Rome, Medeiros wrote in February 1979, "I believe that Father Shanley is a troubled priest."
Yet just two months after that assessment, the cardinal assigned him to the Newton parish, where he was to spend the next 11 years. During that time, the files show, numerous parishioners - among them Jacqueline Gauvreau of Newton - alerted church officials that the priest was involved in sexual activity with minors.
In response to Gauvreau's repeated efforts to alert the church to Shanley, both in person and by phone, Monsignor Frederick J. Ryan - then the vice chancellor of the archdiocese and himself a longtime friend of Shanley who is also accused of sex abuse with minors - directed his staff to "let her stay hanging on the phone."
Referencing that citation, MacLeish said: "If they had picked up the phone (then), Greg Ford would not have been sodomized."
- The documents show that by the early 1990s Shanley was becoming aware his past was catching up with him. In 1991, when Shanley was on paid sick leave from the Boston Archdiocese, but working as a fill-in priest at St. Anne's Parish in San Bernadino, and complained to Rev. John B. McCormack about a suggestion he curtail his activities - which included running youth retreats.
"I have done nothing wrong," he wrote to McCormack, who is currently the embattled bishop of Manchester, N.H., and who features prominently in the Shanley papers, along with Rev. Brian Flatley. Both men are also featured prominently in the documents released two months ago concerning defrocked priest and convicted molester John J. Geoghan.
McCormack was initially troubled by Shanley, the documents suggest. "It is clear to me that Paul Shanley is a sick person," he wrote, adding that he was worried about Shanley's "free-lancing in California" as a man of the cloth.
Despite those worries, and the ever-growing archive of troubling personnel files, Shanley found his way to Leo House in New York with the full knowledge of McCormack and Law. That assignment lasted until 1997, when Shanley was rejected for the post of director of the Catholic-run house despite Laws' written endorsement.
The files also show that by 1994, as complaints against Shanley's behavior began to pour in, Shanley and McCormack wrote to each other about creating a "safe house" for problem priests, and made other statements about the need for Shanley to possibly flee the country if legal troubles arose.
The documents indicate that Shanley and Ryan were close friends, and one note from Shanley to McCormack thanks McCormack for acting as a liaison between Ryan, who is accused of collecting pornographic photos of teens, and Shanley.
"Thank you for acting as go-between with Fred Ryan," Shanley writes. "Here's the latest batch."
- In 1997, Shanley, who had formally retired the year before, but despite his record has never been laicized by the church, asked Rev. William F. Murphy, Law's personnel delegate, to keep Shanley's whereabouts secret after one of his accusers began to pursue the priest, apparently for revenge.
Well aware of Shanley's reputation and dubious personal history, Murphy promised in a letter back to Shanley "that your location will remain confidential."
"I hope this new situation will afford you some renewed peace and security," Murphy wrote to Shanley in August 1997, after the priest had moved back to the San Diego area from New York. "This can be the beginning of a new chapter in your life, one in which you do not have to live under the cloud of (deleted)'s relentless harassment." Murphy also lifted official archdiocese restrictions on Shanley's contact with children.
Shanley was even encouraged by Murphy to use a post office box to receive his checks from Boston, and to leave the country if there appeared to be legal problems.
Despite his checkered past, Shanley, like Geoghan, received a valedictory notes of sorts from Law upon his retirement in 1997:
"For thirty years in assigned ministry you brought God's Word and His Love to His people and I know that that continues to be your goal despie some difficult limitations," Law wrote. "This is an impressive record and all of us are truly grateful for your priestly care and ministry to all whom you have served during those years."
MacLeish said the documents were disturbing not just for their sordid content but for the evidence they hold of the enormous financial support Shanley received over the years. "An outrageous pattern is evident here," he said. "Archdiocese officials at the highest level knew full well of Shanley's misconduct. There's no evidence they gave one whit of concern for the victims; rather they went to outstanding lengths to keep Shanley's past hidden."
The archdiocese, in a statement, said it "has learned from the painful experience of the inadequate polices and procedures of the past" but said church officials were confident that current policies "are focused in a singular way on the protection of children."
[Photo: Painful Past: Gregory Ford, left, of Newton and his mother, Paula, sit before a computer with an image of the man he says molested him - the Rev. Paul Shanley - at yesterday's news conference. Staff photo by Nancy Lane.]
[Photo: Evidence: Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. holds a stack of Archdiocese of Boston documents on accused pedophile priest Paul Shanley, shown at right in a projection image. Staff photo by Nancy Lane.]
[Photo: Supportive: Alleged abuse victims Greg Ford, left, and Arthur
Austin embrace each other yesterday after Austin's emotional statements
about accused pedophile priest Paul Shanley. Staff photo by Renee DeKona.]
By Walter V. Robinson and Thomas Farragher
For more than a decade, Cardinal Bernard F. Law and his deputies ignored allegations of sexual misconduct against Rev. Paul R. Shanley and reacted casually to complaints that Shanley endorsed sexual relations between men and boys, according to an avalanche of documents that were made public yesterday.
As recently as 1997 - after the Boston archdiocese had paid monetary settlements to several of Shanley's victims - Law did not object to Shanley's application to be director of a church-run New York City guest house frequented by student travelers.
Like a priest clad in a Teflon cassock, Shanley received an extraordinary tribute from Law when he retired in 1996, not two decades after Shanley asserted in public remarks that there was no psychic harm from engaging in taboo practices like incest or bestiality.
In the Feb. 29, 1996, letter, the cardinal declared, ''Without doubt over all of these years of generous and zealous care, the lives and hearts of many people have been touched by your sharing of the Lord's Spirit. You are truly appreciated for all that you have done.''
Yesterday, law enforcement officials were more skeptical. Kurt N. Schwartz, chief of the criminal division under Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, and three State Police detectives attended the 21/2-hour news conference at which the documents were unveiled by attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. He obtained them under a court order on behalf of Gregory Ford, a Newton man who allegedly was molested by Shanley between 1983 and 1989.
''We're taking a serious look at today's developments,'' said Ann Donlan, a spokeswoman for Reilly. She declined to elaborate, but said the presence of a senior member of Reilly's staff ''speaks for itself.''
Arthur Austin, another alleged victim of Shanley who attended the news conference, expressed bitterness and dismay at the church's longtime protection of Shanley, who is now 71. ''If the Catholic Church in America does not fit the definition of organized crime, then Americans seriously need to examine their concept of justice,'' Austin said.
The 800 pages of documents, in some major respects, are not unlike the church records, also forced into the open by court order, about former priest John J. Geoghan. In each case there was a priest known to have molested children, two cardinals and several bishops seemingly uninterested in complaints about him, and prelates who transferred him without alerting his new superiors that he was a danger to children.
In both cases, church lawyers waged legal battles to protect the documents from public release.
Geoghan is now serving a nine-to-10 year prison sentence. Shanley, because he left Massachusetts for California in 1990, is believed to be potentially vulnerable to criminal charges because the clock on the statute of limitations stopped running when he left the state.
Yesterday's documents on the sexual misbehavior of a second priest is likely to increase public suspicion that the archdiocese holds embarrassing files on others among the nearly 100 diocesan priests whose names have been turned over to prosecutors since January.
Donna M. Morrissey, the cardinal's spokeswoman, issued a statement last night declaring that the archdiocese ''has learned from the painful experience of the inadequate policies and procedures of the past.''
Her statement, which made no mention of the Shanley documents, said: ''Whatever may have occurred in the past, there were no deliberate decisions to put children at risk.''
But MacLeish, who said there are 26 known Shanley victims, called the documents astonishing for what they say about the depth of the archdiocese's knowledge of Shanley's sexual habits and for the disdain they show for his victims, many of them allegedly abused during the 1970s, when Shanley was a controversial ''street priest'' in Boston.
''This man was a monster in the Archdiocese of Boston for many, many years,'' MacLeish said. ''He had beliefs that no rational human being could defend.''
MacLeish, wearing a wireless microphone and narrating a computer-generated tour of some of the 818 documents handed over by the archdiocese, said warning signs about Shanley date back as early as 1967.
''All of the suffering that has taken place at the hands of Paul Shanley - a serial child molester for four decades, three of them in Boston - none of it had to happen,'' he said.
Before an audience of journalists, accusers' families, and parishioners from the Newton church Shanley served as curate and pastor from 1979 to 1990, MacLeish argued that Law, his predecessor, Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, and their top aides were complicit in covering up the church's knowledge of a molester in their midst. Letter after letter was projected onto a large screen in a Boston hotel conference room, with warnings from people who recoiled at Shanley's casual attitude about sex between men and boys, or who reported that he had masturbated one boy and identified other possible victims with names, telephone numbers, and addresses.
In rebutting a 1967 complaint that he had molested three boys, a letter from Shanley to Monsignor Francis J. Sexton denied that he had touched any of the boys. ''... It is indeed a comforting prospect to realize that any allegations which might in the future be made against me involving women will be given far less credence than ordinary in the light of my presumed predilection for pederasty,'' Shanley wrote.
But when Shanley was finally sent for treatment in late 1993 to the Institute of Living in Hartford, after some of his victims pressed claims against the archdiocese, he admitted that he had molested boys and had also had sexual relationships with men and women.
The handwritten notes of Rev. William F. Murphy, an archdiocesan official, note that Shanley's treatment concluded that he had a personality disorder, was ''narcissistic'' and ''histrionic'' and ''admitted to substantial complaints.'' The record cited his admissions to nine sexual encounters, four involving boys.
Whether or not church officials believed Shanley's denials in the 1960s and 1970s, there was little doubt about his controversial stance on sexual practices.
In 1977, for instance, the archdiocese was alerted by an appalled Catholic that during a public address in Rochester, N.Y., Shanley asserted that the only harm that befalls children from having sexual relations with adults is from the trauma of societal condemnation of such acts.
''He stated that he can think of no sexual act that causes psychic damage - `not even incest or bestiality,''' according to a letter sent to Medeiros, who died in 1983.
Indeed, the records in Shanley's personnel files disclose that Medeiros wrote to the Vatican in February 1979 about Shanley's comments about sexual practices. In the letter, Medeiros called Shanley a ''troubled priest.''
Two months later, Medeiros was alerted by a New York City lawyer that Shanley had been quoted as making similar remarks in an interview about man-boy love with a publication called Gaysweek.
Within days, according to the church records, Medeiros removed Shanley from his street ministry, sending him to St. John the Evangelist Church in Newton, but with an admonition.
''It is understood that your ministry at Saint John Parish and elsewhere in this Archdiocese of Boston will be exercised in full conformity with the clear teachings of the Church as expressed in papal documents and other pronouncements of the Holy See, especially those regarding sexual ethics,'' Medeiros wrote in a letter to Shanley.
Six years later, Law promoted Shanley to pastor. And four months after Shanley became pastor in 1985, the archdiocese reacted nonchalantly when a woman alerted the Chancery that Shanley gave another talk in Rochester in which he once again endorsed sexual relations between men and boys.
In response, Rev. John B. McCormack - now the bishop of Manchester, N.H. - sent a friendly note to Shanley, a seminary classmate. In a letter signed, ''Fraternally in Christ,'' McCormack wrote: ''Would you care to comment on the remarks she made. You can either put them in writing or we could get together some day about it.''
There was no evidence in the files that Shanley responded in writing. Through a spokesman, McCormack yesterday refused to comment on the documents.
Three years later, in 1988, a man complained to the archdiocese that Shanley began a sexually explicit conversation with him. But despite the evidence in the Chancery's files about earlier accusations made against Shanley, Bishop Robert J. Banks, Law's top deputy, concluded in a memo that nothing could be done because Shanley denied that the incident occurred.
It was Banks, the Globe reported yesterday, who cleared the way in 1990 for Shanley to take an assignment in a California diocese with a letter asserting that Shanley had had no problems during his years in Boston.
Banks, who is now bishop of Green Bay, Wis., said in a brief statement from his spokesman: ''Obviously, I was not aware of any allegations against Father Shanley before I sent the letter.''
Yesterday, Austin, who says Shanley abused him from 1968 to 1974, evoked an audible gasp when he retold a conversation he said he had with Murphy, the archdiocesan official. Austin said the conversation drove him from the Roman Catholic Church and prompted his decision to get legal help.
''He called me about three months after I had come forward in November of 1998 and said to me: `Arthur, I'm going to have to be very careful about meeting with you.' I said, `Why is that, Bill?' And he said to me, `Because I've spoken to experts here at the Chancery who have told me that you are going to want from me what you wanted from Father Shanley.' ''
Murphy did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
MacLeish said Murphy's response to Austin illustrates a cavalier attitude the church used toward victims. Sometimes, he said, citing one document that appears to refer to a woman who accused Shanley of being a child molester, they put telephone complainers on hold, hoping they'd go away.
In December 1989, Shanley stepped down as pastor in Newton for reasons that are not clear from the documents. He was placed on sick leave and moved to California as a part-time priest at a parish in San Bernardino. During the three years he was there, the Globe reported yesterday, Shanley and another priest from the Boston Archdiocese, Rev. John J. White, were co-owners and operators of a Palm Springs motel that catered to gay clients.
It was during that period that McCormack, who visited with both men, corresponded warmly with Shanley over Shanley's regular complaints that the archdiocese was not giving him enough financial support. He accompanied one plea to McCormack with what appeared to be a warning that reporters were calling him and there might be a ''media whirlwind.''
In December 1990, Law himself wrote to Shanley, granting his request to extend his sick leave for a year. Extending his ''warm personal regards,'' Law said he was saddened to hear about Shanley's ''malaise.''
McCormack and Shanley also corresponded about a proposal, apparently by Shanley, to create a ''safehouse'' in Palm Springs where the Boston Archdiocese could send ''warehoused'' priests. When he heard no response, he wrote McCormack, ''I assume the hesitation is about me, not the concept.''
Shanley, however, moved to New York City in 1995, and took a job at Leo House, a guest house run by an order of nuns on West 23d street in Manhattan. Its guests included teenagers. A letter in the files by an unidentified archdiocesan official says that the job ''was a placement of his own finding'' and expresses concern that ''it would be hard to defend if any public disclosure was made about it; i.e., NYC, possible questionable supervision, transient guests, young people, not of our making, etc.''
Despite those concerns, Shanley remained at Leo House for nearly two more years, eventually as acting executive director. And had New York Cardinal John O'Connor not vetoed the proposal, Law was prepared to approve him becoming permanent director in 1997.
During Shanley's long-running effort to get that job, he wrote a letter of frustration to Rev. Brian M. Flatley, an aide to Law, saying he had ''abided by my promise'' not to tell anyone that he himself had been molested as a teenager, and when he was a seminarian, by a priest, a faculty member, a pastor, and an unidentified cardinal.
In June 1997, Law wrote a letter to O'Connor, citing ''some controversy'' in Shanley's past, but adding: ''If you decide to allow Father Shanley to accept this position, I would not object.'' But Flatley never sent the letter, after learning that O'Connor ruled out the promotion.
Not long after that, Shanley moved to San Diego.
By Peter Gelzinis
If Bernard Cardinal Law was sorry - heartily sorry - for John Geoghan's
countless trespasses against children . . . what exactly does he say now?
By J.M. Hirsch
Concord, N.H. -- Bishop John McCormack was among top church officials
who turned a blind eye for years to molestation allegations against a
priest who publicly advocated sex between men and boys, according to church
records released Monday.
Bishop Accountability © 2003
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