in Rape of Boy in Boston
By Pam Belluck
February 8, 2005
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 7 - Paul R. Shanley, a defrocked priest who became a lightning rod for the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, was convicted on Monday of raping and assaulting a boy when he was a parish priest in suburban Boston in the 1980's.
Mr. Shanley, 74, was one of the few priests to face criminal charges in the scandal, and his conviction came in a case in which prosecutors relied almost solely on one accuser, who said he had repressed the memory of the abuse until reading a newspaper article about Mr. Shanley three years ago.
After deliberating for nearly 15 hours beginning last Thursday, the jury of seven men and five women pronounced Mr. Shanley guilty of two counts of rape and two counts of indecent assault on a child. Judge Stephen A. Neel of Middlesex Superior Court revoked Mr. Shanley's bail and scheduled him to be sentenced on Feb. 15. He could face up to life in prison.
"It was very difficult," said one juror, Victoria Blier, 53, of Lexington. "There was no DNA, there was no direct corroboration, and that made it very difficult."
Ms. Blier, who owns a window treatment business, said the jury was persuaded by the prosecutor's argument that the accuser was credible because he had no selfish reason to pursue the criminal case since he had already received $500,000 in the settlement of a civil lawsuit against the church.
"I think the one central idea that seemed to be the most compelling to the most people was that the victim had nothing to gain by pursuing the criminal trial and everything to lose, because it was extremely painful," Ms. Blier said. "We tried to, but no one could come up with a convincing reason for why he would pursue this except for a sincere need for justice. He could walk, he could say, 'Listen, this is going to be too hard on my family,' and, 'Sorry, but I'm not going to pursue this' and no one would fault him."
As the verdict was read, Mr. Shanley stood straight and betrayed little emotion. His accuser, who spoke publicly about his accusations over the last three years but asked news organizations not to name him during the trial, stood in the first row, rocking back and forth with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face.
Now a 27-year-old firefighter, the accuser testified that Mr. Shanley would pull him out of Christian doctrine class beginning when he was 6 years old, and would orally and digitally rape him in the bathroom, the pews, the confessional and the rectory of St. Jean's Parish in Newton.
Mr. Shanley's lawyer, Frank Mondano, had argued that what Mr. Shanley was accused of was logistically impossible given the layout and crowded nature of the church on Sunday mornings. Mr. Mondano also argued that the accuser had concocted the charges in order to prevail in his civil suit against the church.
The jury asked only one question of the judge during deliberations, requesting to see a journal that the accuser kept after he says he recovered his memories of abuse. The judge denied the request because although parts of the journal had been read at trial, the journal itself had not been entered into evidence.
Mr. Mondano said he would appeal and asserted that the prosecution's case was strikingly weak.
The prosecutors said Monday that they recognized what a difficult case they had to prove. The case had started with allegations from four accusers, at least three of whom were friends and classmates at St. Jean's. But before the trial started, charges relating to three of the accusers were dropped.
Midway through the trial, Judge Neel threw out a fifth charge against Mr. Shanley, involving allegations that he forced the accuser to perform oral sex on him. Then, in instructions to the jury, Judge Neel said there had been no direct evidence to support one of the accuser's central claims, that he had repeatedly been taken out of class.
"This was a tough case," Martha Coakley, the Middlesex district attorney, said after the verdict. "We know that there were several roadblocks in this case. They were many and they were obvious."
But "we knew that this was the perfect storm of the child abuse situation," Ms. Coakley said. "That was because we had a priest with a sexual predilection for young boys," she said. "He was clearly an authority figure and one who was well-loved. We had a priest who told his victims if he told what happened he would not be believed."
Ms. Coakley suggested that the main reason the three other accusers dropped out of the criminal prosecution was the information unearthed about them in the civil lawsuit in which all four of them received settlements last year.
Indeed, in his questioning, Mr. Mondano brought out the accuser's volatile home life as a child and his subsequent problems with alcohol, steroids and gambling, which he said clouded the accuser's credibility.
Mr. Mondano also suggested several motives for the accuser's pursuit of the criminal case. Beside shaping his accusations to match those of his friends, Mr. Mondano said, journal writings and one psychological session suggested the accuser might be an attention-seeker, someone who wants "to be a hero," perhaps particularly to law enforcement. Mr. Mondano noted that many of the accuser's friends and family members work in law enforcement, including his wife and a friend, who work for the agency investigating his case, the Newton Police Department.
Mr. Shanley had become something of a symbol of the clergy scandal, in part because he had a colorful and controversial history as a long-haired priest in the 1970's who ministered to troubled youths and spoke out in support of homosexuality. Church documents showed that archdiocesan officials allowed him to remain a priest even though they knew that he had said he supported sex between men and boys.
About two dozen people have accused Mr. Shanley of abuse, with allegations dating to the 1960's. Most of the allegations involved teenagers, not allegations of pedophilia.
Also in the courtroom was John Harris, 47, who said that he was raped by Mr. Shanley 26 years ago when he was sent to him for counseling because he had discovered he was gay.
"Finally it seems like somebody has heard us and it turned out to be a jury," said Mr. Harris, who received a settlement from the Boston Archdiocese in a civil suit.
One of Mr. Shanley's defenders, Paul Shannon, a longtime friend, said he felt "complete devastation" over the verdict. He called the accusations a "preposterous story" that he said was "mathematically impossible for Shanley to have done."
Many of the other priests accused of abuse have not faced criminal charges because the allegations against them occurred too long ago.
Ann Hagan Webb, an advocate for abuse victims, said she hoped the Shanley verdict would put pressure on legislators to change the law so other priests could be forced to stand trial.
"We need to make sure history doesn't repeat itself," Ms. Webb said.
Katie Zezima contributed reporting for this article.
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