Houston Attorney Sees Evidence of Vatican Conspiracy

By Tara Dooley
Houston Chronicle [Houston TX]
August 29, 2003

Daniel J. Shea's tools in the trade of tracking down information about sex abuse and the Catholic church mostly involved his computer.

But the Houston-based lawyer also put into play some skills acquired from a time of his life when he had been studying to become a priest: a knowledge of Latin and an understanding of Roman Catholic theology.

The result for Shea was his discovery of a confidential document, first detected from a reference in Latin on the Vatican's Web site. As Shea sees it, the document, Crimen sollicitationis, or crime of solicitation, shows that the Vatican provided bishops with instructions on how to handle sex-abuse crimes -- quietly and secretly -- at least as far back as 1962.

Others familiar with the document disagree about its purpose, importance and effect.

Shea, however, sees evidence of conspiracy and is convinced that it will offer new ammunition for himself and legal colleagues representing clients with sex-abuse claims against the Catholic Church.

Shea first took notice of the rising clergy sex-abuse scandal in January 2002 as news reports from Boston were followed by stories across the country implicating hundreds of Catholic clergy in many states.

His interest soon became personal when a former client from Massachusetts, where Shea also practices law, called. The man had settled a sex-abuse claim with the Diocese of Worcester against a priest. The terms of the $300,000 agreement required confidentiality. But the man had learned that the priest was working with teens again. The man wanted legal advice on whether to speak up, the Houston attorney said.

"Prior to January 2002 I knew (sex abuse by the Catholic clergy) was going on but I had never looked into it in any way shape or form," Shea said. "As soon as this settlement agreement matter came on my desk, I figured I needed to educate myself quickly."

Shea, 59, was not always a church critic. He was raised in the church in Providence, R.I., where his introduction to Latin came as an altar boy.

After high school, Shea joined the U.S. Navy and operated nuclear reactors on submarines. He left the Navy in 1965 and headed to a Catholic seminary near Brussels, Belgium, where he earned theology degrees and honed his Latin skills. He returned to Providence in the early 1973 as temporary deacon with plans to become a priest.

But Shea said he became frustrated with the church's lack of success in fulfilling the promises of the Second Vatican Council. These concerns led him to abandon his path to the priesthood, though there were also family matters that influenced his decision, Shea said.

After a stint as a consultant in the nuclear energy field, Shea attended South Texas College of Law in Houston and now mostly represents plaintiffs in standard injury claims. But he grabbed local headlines with lawsuits in 1994 and 1996 objecting to religious art and the Ten Commandments posted in courtrooms.

Shea now considers himself a Catholic theologian, but holds no allegiance to the church hierarchy and does not attend any church, he said. A picture of Pope John Paul II hanging in his office is covered with a 2000 letter from his childhood parish in Providence thanking Shea for a donation to fix the church organ -- a donation he is not sure he would make these days.

"I consider the man a tyrant," Shea said of the pope. "I decided to cover it because I wanted him to know I was mad at him. I leave it there just to remind me."

Armed with the crimen document in translation, Shea expects to get in the mix of litigation against the church, perhaps as a witness. He is also representing a client in Massachusetts in a sex-abuse claim and interviewing potential plaintiffs in Texas, he said.

"The church has made trouble for the church. I'm not making trouble for the church. The church has made its own bed; I'm just making them lay in it."

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