|The California Years
In San Diego, Past Was a Mystery
By Jeff McDonald
[See also the main
article in this feature, with links to the other articles.]
Neighbors, acquaintances, and former parishioners in Southern California were stunned and disillusioned yesterday by new allegations of sexual abuse of teenage boys by a trusted man of the cloth.
But they were equally quick to say the Paul Shanley they knew was tall, handsome, well spoken, compassionate, and always at the ready to assist someone in need.
''He looked like he could have been a banker,'' said Mel Lee, who manages the senior housing complex where Shanley shares a two-bedroom apartment in the Hillcrest section of San Diego, a trendy upscale neighborhood north of downtown. ''He dressed very conservatively. He pays his rent on time. He's a good tenant.''
Shanley has kept an extremely low profile in the weeks since accusations that he molested children became public. His neighbors said they have not seen him in weeks, and his roommate declined to answer questions.
The 71-year-old Shanley told almost no one in San Diego about his years as a Catholic priest in Boston. Even the San Diego Police Department, which issued him a badge and signed him up as a senior civilian volunteer, was unaware that Shanley had worked as a member of the clergy.
Police officials here last week relieved Shanley of his duties, which included assisting at traffic collisions, removing abandoned cars, and other minor law enforcement work, when they became aware of the allegations.
''We never had an inkling that he was a retired priest,'' said Frank Szafranski, who oversees the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, or RSVP. ''He was a good, diligent worker.''
Shanley carried a badge and worked in a marked police vehicle, Szafranski said. But the volunteers never work alone and rarely encounter children, he added.
''The only time the uniform is worn is when he's on duty with another officer or at a special function,'' Szafranski said. ''Other than that, he wouldn't have a car and he wouldn't be in an official capacity.''
Shanley last worked as a ''supply priest'' at St. Anne Church in San Bernardino, meaning that he said weekend Mass as needed without regular pastoral duties, 100 miles north of San Diego.
But church officials there were never told Shanley was suspected of raping and molesting children during his years in Massachusetts, said the Rev. Gerald Leonard of St. Anne's.
''He filled in here and there, weddings, baptisms, confessions,'' said Leonard, who said he discussed the allegations with his congregation of 2,000 or so families. ''Most of the parishes now have limited personnel. It's not like it used to be.''
As a supply priest for about two years in the early '90's, Shanley lived in the St. Anne Rectory, a center-city residence just a half-mile from the local bishop's office, Leonard said, but he almost never worked with children.
''He was not responsible for day-to-day counseling, and he never worked with prayer groups,'' Leonard said. ''Supply priests come and go as they please.''
Julie Stringer and her family have been faithful members of St. Anne parish for decades. Both of her sons were altar boys at the church, and her youngest served Father Shanley, she said.
But like many others who knew Shanley in Southern California, Stringer is hard-pressed to believe these latest allegations.
''He was gifted, a good Catholic priest,'' said Stringer, whose family lives in nearby Highland and owns a small business that relocates mobile homes.
''My younger son served him a lot longer and no red flags went off for him,'' she said. ''I think my son would have picked up on something'' if there had been any abuse. St. Anne's officials said there were no complaints against Shanley.
Lee said the rent is paid up through April on the apartment Shanley rents here. He has not given notice that he plans to move, despite the parade of reporters and investigators that has descended on the complex.
''His roommate said 'We live here,''' Lee said. ''Paul's just out of town.''
This story ran on page A13 of the Boston Globe on 4/9/2002.
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