A Priest's 2 Faces: Protector, Predator
By Fox Butterfield with Jenny Hontz
New York Times
May 19, 2002
Boston - The way Christine Hickey remembers it, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley
was her protector, someone who made her feel safe. He was a hero to her
parents, who even named one of her sisters, Pauline, after him.
Ms. Hickey felt especially indebted to Father Shanley for what he did
after she was sexually abused at her church in Stoneham, Mass., by another
Roman Catholic priest, James Porter, in 1967, when she was about 9. Father
Shanley reported Father Porter to the Boston Archdiocese and arranged
to have him sent for treatment to a church-run center in New Mexico. Mr.
Porter is now serving an 18-year prison sentence for child sexual abuse
in Massachusetts as one of the most serious pedophile priests ever discovered.
[Photo captions: Marjorie Mahoney, left, says the Rev. Paul R. Shanley
began abusing her brother Bill O'Toole when he was 12, in 1962. Father
Shanley "warned Bill that if he told anyone, he would burn in hell,"
Ms. Mahoney says. Mr. O'Toole, far right front, with Ms. Mahoney and other
siblings in 1985, battled drug addiction and died of AIDS in 1998. (Jodi
Hilton for The New York Times). 2002 - Father Shanley at a San Diego hearing
this month after being charged in Massachusetts with raping a boy in 1983.
(Associated Press). 1985 - Father Shanley spoke with Archbishop Bernard
F. Law of Boston at Father Shanley's Silver Jubilee celebration. (Associated
Press). 1974 - The Rev. Paul R. Shanley, whose youth ministry in Boston
won praise, addressed a State House hearing. (The Boston Globe).]
But Ms. Hickey had no idea then that Father Shanley had been accused
of sexual abuse himself. The father of an 11-year-old boy had reported
him to the police six years earlier, barely a year after his ordination.
Nor could Ms. Hickey have known that more than 30 people would eventually
come forward with a trail of accusations against Father Shanley that would
span the next three decades.
Father Shanley, 71, who was arrested this month on charges of raping
a 6-year-old boy in 1983, has become a central figure in the sexual abuse
crisis that has spread beyond the Boston Archdiocese to convulse the entire
Like another disgraced priest, John J. Geoghan, Father Shanley was protected
by top officials of the Boston Archdiocese. Church documents show that
they vouched for his character and allowed him to continue working as
a priest despite repeated accusations of abuse.
Like Mr. Geoghan, Father Shanley has been vilified as a marauding sociopath.
But as Ms. Hickey's account suggests, his story is not that simple. Interviews
with Father Shanley's accusers, his relatives and people who worked with
him, as well as an examination of thousands of pages of court papers and
his previously undisclosed private writings, portray a man split in two:
part protector, part predator, with the church central to both roles,
providing both his mission and his cover.
It is a contradiction that some who know him find impossible to reconcile.
"I really think both sides of him are real," said Ms. Hickey,
now 44 and a school administrator in Cambridge. "On the one hand,
he did wonderful things," she said, particularly as a "street
priest" in Boston in the late 1960's and 1970's, when he ran a widely
admired ministry for runaway youths and later for gays, and gained national
attention, including a mention in "Common Ground," the Pulitzer
Prize-winning book about Boston by J. Anthony Lukas.
"I felt loved by him," she said. "He helped me tremendously."
On the other hand, said Ms. Hickey, who went through a period of nightmares
and alcoholism after her own molestation, "he abused and took advantage"
of some of the very people entrusted to his care.
Perhaps, she reasoned, "There is no real truth."
No one who knew Paul Shanley seemed to know who he really was. Maybe
he wanted it that way.
For from early on, he was living with a dark secret. He has said he was
molested by a priest at age 12, forced to have oral sex, according to
notes of a psychiatrist's interview with him at the Institute of Living
in Hartford, Conn., in 1994.
The Boston archdiocese released the notes as part of more than 1,600
pages of documents it was required to produce as a result of a lawsuit
filed by Gregory Ford, who says Father Shanley molested him at St. John
the Evangelist Church in Newton from 1983, when Mr. Ford was 6, until
Father Shanley never told his family about his own abuse -- not his brothers,
his sisters-in-law or his favorite niece. "That was really a shock
to me," said Estelle Shanley, the widow of Father Shanley's brother,
Donald Shanley. "He never showed any signs of any stress people might
exhibit. He was very solid and well-adjusted."
Father Shanley, who is in jail in Cambridge, could not be reached for
comment. His lawyer, Frank Mondano, did not return phone calls.
Experts have long recognized that children who are physically or sexually
abused are at risk of becoming abusers themselves. So Kay Jackson, a psychologist
who is director of the Metropolitan Center, a private center for sex offenders
in New York, said she had been waiting to see when a priest charged with
child sexual abuse would come forward to say he had been abused as a boy.
"Our society tends to divide up perpetrators and victims into neat
camps," Dr. Jackson said. "What if they're the same?"
Social Work Plans Lead to the Seminary
Paul Shanley was born in 1931 in Dorchester, then a heavily Irish, working-class
section of Boston where residents knew one another by the parish churches
The parish pastor was a crucial figure in their lives. Since Irish immigrants
began to settle in Boston in large numbers in the 1840's, suffering discrimination
from the established Yankees, local priests had guided them not only spiritually,
but also in countless other practical ways, filling out citizenship papers,
paying rent and helping to organize unions.
So the Irish of Dorchester repaid their priests with what little they
had -- admiration, unquestioning deference and a willingness to forgive
foibles, like whiskey and sexual activity, said Eugene Kennedy, a former
priest and emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago.
Paul Shanley grew up in this world. His father owned a bowling alley
and pool room. His mother was a genteel, pious woman who was a legal secretary
and looked on Paul as her favorite child. "The family was very Catholic,"
Estelle Shanley said, and "at the time it was height of achievement
for a mother to have a son go into the priesthood."
In a brief autobiography he wrote after graduating from high school in
1950, young Paul described himself as a mediocre student who liked to
play spin the bottle and post office with the girls. A guidance counselor
urged him to learn printing at a vocational school, but at the suggestion
of a worker at a Y.M.C.A., where was a counselor, Paul took a battery
of aptitude tests.
They "proved conclusively what I had suspected," Father Shanley
wrote, that his talents lay in another direction. "This field was
social work or, more specifically, boys' work."
He switched to Huntington Prep, a college-track high school, and spent
summers as a camp counselor. After getting his diploma, Paul wrote: "I
have thus far penetrated seven fields of boy's work. They are: summer
camping, scouting, Y.M.C.A., day camping, club groups, settlement home
and boys' home.
"It can be seen from this listing the predominance of social work
over other fields," Paul wrote. "This might show a natural preference.
My vocational plans are, strange to say, boy's work."
Paul enrolled at Boston University, but after two years transferred to
St. John's Seminary in Boston. He has left no record explaining his decision,
but Estelle Shanley, who first met him then, said: "Paul had a piety.
He had a very understanding manner about him. He was very much a do-gooder.
He wanted to do good, and I think Paul saw the priesthood as a way to
do good work."
In retrospect, it is tempting to conclude that something happened to
Paul Shanley at St. John's. His class of 1960, with 77 men, included five
priests who have since been publicly accused of sexually abusing children.
Father Shanley, in a letter to a Boston Archdiocese official in 1995,
said he had been abused at the seminary by a priest and a faculty member.
But several priests who were in Father Shanley's class said they never
heard of any sexual activity at St. John's.
On the contrary, said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a 1962 graduate and now
a professor of theology at Notre Dame, "the seminaries in those days
were very strict, very conservative, like minimum security prisons."
Each student had his own room, he said, "and one of the most serious
rules you could break was to be found in another student's room."
There was no formal preparation for the chaste life of a priest. "There
were no classes about it, and we took no vow of celibacy," Professor
McBrien said. "It was just assumed we would be celibate."
From the Beginning, Accusations of Abuse
Two weeks after he was ordained in 1960, Paul Shanley was named an assistant
pastor at St. Patrick's Church in Stoneham, a working-class suburb north
A year later, Bernie Vacon, the Stoneham police chief, got his first
molestation complaint about Father Shanley. The father of an 11-year-old
boy called Chief Vacon to report that his son had been severely sexually
abused. Chief Vacon said he took the complaint seriously because the father
was a doctor, a senior lay member of the church and a Middlesex County
Chief Vacon, in a recent interview, recalled confronting Father Shanley,
who told him nothing had happened.
"I said, 'What do you mean, nothing?"
"Shanley said: 'I was standing in his bedroom. He had pornography.
I was just trying to straighten him out.' "
"I was pretty upset," Chief Vacon said. "Shanley got away
with it because the father didn't want to go public with a prosecution
against a priest. He was ashamed this had happened and he didn't want
a fight with the church. That's how it was in those days."
The boy's mother did write to the pastor, Msgr. John Sexton, and to Cardinal
Richard Cushing in Boston, Chief Vacon said, but there was no investigation
by the church, as far as he knows.
Chief Vacon said he soon began getting other calls about Father Shanley,
whom he called "a wolf in sheep's clothing." Without cooperation,
the most Chief Vacon could do was to never go back to St. Patrick's, the
church in which he was raised and where his aunt was a nun teaching in
the church school.
In 1962, Marjorie Mahoney of Stoneham says, Father Shanley found another
victim: her brother Bill O'Toole, then 12. On weekends, for a year and
a half, Father Shanley took Bill on retreats to a cabin he had in the
Blue Hill Reservation area of Milton, said Ms. Mahoney, whose father and
grandfather were police officers in Stoneham.
"There would be other boys, but they would always be one bed short,
so Bill would have to sleep with Shanley," Ms. Mahoney recalled.
"He told Bill he was doing the Lord's work by finding out who the
homosexuals were," she said. "Shanley also warned Bill that
if he told anyone, he would burn in hell."
In fact, Ms. Mahoney said, Bill did tell one of his brothers, Michael
O'Toole, now a Stoneham policeman. Bill began having trouble in school
and eventually became a drug addict, then determined he was gay and moved
to San Francisco.
In 1998, Bill O'Toole died of AIDS. As he lay dying in a hospice, his
mother said she was going to call a priest to say the last rites, Ms.
Mahoney said. "But Bill said you can't do that." When their
mother asked why, he blurted out the whole story, including Father Shanley's
warning that he would burn in hell if he ever told. "You could see
the terror in his eyes," Ms. Mahoney said.
Professor Kennedy, who has studied priests with troubled sex lives, said
the actions Ms. Mahoney ascribed to Father Shanley were classic. "In
his mind, he was an angel for saving these boys; that was his rationalization,"
Professor Kennedy said. "He got tremendous gratification thinking
he was their savior, which kept him from recognizing that he is the predator."
Reaching Addicts, Gays and Runaways
In 1969, Father Shanley began what the church called his "Youth
Apostolate." Working without a church, from a small home in Roxbury,
a poor, black section of the city, he ministered to the thousands of young
people who were running away from home, experimenting with drugs and sex
and often ending up homeless and sick.
He let his hair grow long, and traded in his black garb and Roman collar
for blue jeans.
"All that societal churning was going on, and Paul Shanley was right
in the middle of it," Estelle Shanley said.
His work was so inspiring that in 1970 three young Catholic nuns went
to visit one of Father Shanley's programs, a residential drug treatment
center, and ended up establishing their own full-time agency for young
people on the street.
Thirty years later, their agency, Bridge Over Troubled Waters, is the
main one of its kind in Boston, and Sister Barbara Whelan is still the
director. "If I had not met Paul Shanley, I would not have spent
the last 32 years of my life helping abused kids," she said.
"He had a real sense of why kids were hurting and was very committed
to helping kids who had been abused," Sister Whelan said. "That
was his thing. And most of the kids we saw had been abused."
Gradually after Bridge was founded, Father Shanley turned to work with
young gay people, Sister Whelan said, and given the church's views on
homosexual acts as sinful, he adopted a posture that seemed almost deliberately
In a 1970's interview with The Catholic Reporter, a liberal Catholic
weekly, Father Shanley said homosexuality and bisexuality were "normal,
natural" and not "pathological," as some in the church
maintained. "I don't think sexual activity among members of the same
sex is so much the problem. It's what society says and does about it."
The article, along with about two dozen more, were in Father Shanley's
personnel file, included in the documents the archdiocese released.
Separately, in a speech at a church in Rochester, N.Y., in 1977, Father
Shanley said that when an adult and a child have sex, "the adult
is not the seducer -- the kid is the seducer." Moreover, if the adult
is punished for the act, it will only traumatize the child, Father Shanley
said, according to notes taken by a woman who was there and then wrote
to the Boston archdiocese to complain about his comments.
By 1979, the leader of the Boston archdiocese, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros,
had heard enough and ended Father Shanley's ministry to gays. But without
any investigation, Cardinal Medeiros made him pastor at St. John's in
It was there he is accused of the abuse of the two 6-year-old boys that
has resulted in the current civil lawsuit and criminal charges against
Mounting Lawsuits And Failing Health
In 1990 Cardinal Bernard F. Law ended Father Shanley's post in Newton,
for reasons in dispute, and allowed him to go on sick leave to southern
California, without telling the local bishop in San Bernardino County
about his background.
Father Shanley moved to Palm Springs where he filled in as a priest some
Sundays and also owned a motel for gays with a fellow Boston priest, John
White. Father White had been sent to California after suffering from depression,
according to church documents.
Father Shanley apparently was in poor health then. His doctor, James
Shaner, of Rancho Mirage, Calif., said in a 1991 letter that he had gastroenteritis,
a hernia, chronic anxiety neurosis, severe allergies, asthma, Bell's palsy,
loss of hearing, insomnia and an enlarged prostate.
After being seen at the Institute of Living in 1994, he was found to
have a "somatoform disorder," according to a confidential report
to a special review board created by Cardinal Law to deal with priests
accused of sexual abuse. The disorder involves multiple physical ailments
not fully explained by an actual illness.
It could be, several psychiatrists said, that Father Shanley's anxiety
about his past actions, or his fear of being found out, was finally catching
up with him.
He began telling church officials that someone was stalking him, and
he tried to keep his identity as a priest secret. When one neighbor in
San Diego in whom he had confided told some other people, Father Shanley
"You continue to tell people that I am a priest despite my wishes.
So back off," he wrote to her by e-mail.
A psychiatrist who evaluated him at the Institute of Living in 1994 said
Father Shanley had admitted the four accusations of sexual abuse made
against him up to that point and acknowledged that he was "attracted
to adolescents." On this basis, the church secretly settled several
lawsuits against him.
There are now accusations by more than 30 men, some from Stoneham, some
from his days as a street priest, some from Newton, and at least two new
cases from Father Shanley's time in southern California in the 1990's,
said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer with Greenberg, Traurig in Boston
who is suing Cardinal Law over his handling of Father Shanley.
The number of lawsuits may grow, Mr. MacLeish said, because he is getting
new calls every week.
Yet he never told his sister-in-law or his favorite niece, Teresa Shanley,
about the charges against him, even when he returned to Boston from time
to time to help care for his brother, Teresa's father, Donald, who had
Alzheimer's disease. "I love him and stand by him," Ms. Shanley
said after visiting him in jail. "He's like a father to me."
"I believe in his innocence, as he has told me he is innocent,"