He was a priest central to the ‘Spotlight’ child sex abuse scandal. Now he’s a free man.
By Alex Horton
July 29, 2017
Phil Saviano, an advocate for sexual assault victims, had a list of Boston-area clergymen alleged to have raped young boys. And it was growing.
He created a New England chapter of a support group for people who said they had been abused by priests and drew up the list of alleged offenders, along with other data points, beginning in 1997.
One of the names kept coming up in discussions: Paul Shanley.
Shanley was a well-respected clergyman nicknamed the “Street Priest” for his habit of roaming dangerous neighborhoods to help troubled youths. But he also secretly used the anonymity of vulnerable, wayward boys as a weapon and a shield.
Shanley, 86, was released from state prison Friday after serving a 12-year sentence for the rape and indecent assault of a boy in a Massachusetts church in the 1980s. He was defrocked by the Vatican in 2004 and convicted the following year.
“The fact he was sent away for 12 years was a triumph for the survivor community,” Saviano told The Washington Post.
Shanley’s outing and eventual conviction were partly attributable to the Boston Globe’s landmark 2002 investigation that raised questions about widespread abuse among Boston clergymen and whether officials with the Archdiocese of Boston had looked the other way.
The Pulitzer-winning reporting and related suits persuaded victims to come forward across the world, resulting in at least five convictions in the Boston area, including Shanley’s, and the resignation of the then-archbishop of Boston, Bernard Law.
The probe led to the 2015 Oscar-winning film “Spotlight.” Saviano, whose list was instrumental to the launch of the full investigation, was portrayed in the movie by actor Neal Huff.
Saviano said his Facebook page has been inundated with comments about Shanley’s release, which has exposed the problem of post-traumatic stress among survivors.
“It can be very difficult and nerve-racking, and it sends people to therapists when this is back in the news,” he said. “It brings up a lot of memories and a lot of raw feelings. One memory will lead to another memory.”
The graying Shanley, hobbling on a cane to his new residence across the street from a dance studio with clients as young as 2, is registered as a Level 3 sex offender, considered the most likely to reoffend. The designation has triggered publication of his name, his convictions and his address in Ware, about 80 miles west of Boston, the Globe reported.
Shanley was imprisoned at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater, and his 10-year probation carries the condition he has no contact with children 16 years old and younger, the Globe reported.
“A guy rapes a little kid, and that little kid is ruined for the rest of his life and he gets, on average, I think it was eight years before. This guy ends up doing 12 or 15, but everybody that he hurt has to deal with it the rest of their lives,” one of Shanley’s victims, Paul Busa, told a local CBS affiliate.
Robert Shaw Jr., the lawyer who represented Shanley in a criminal appeal case, told the Associated Press he understands the community’s emotional reaction.
“I’m sure that law enforcement will ensure that the community feels safe, and I have every expectation that they are going to fulfill their obligation and be certain that Paul Shanley also remains safe,” Shaw said, according to the AP. Shanley declined to answer questions from reporters, according to the Globe.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office opposed Shanley’s release, but two forensic psychologists said he did not qualify as a sexually dangerous person despite his Level 3 status, the Globe said.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented dozens of men who say they were abused by Shanley, told the AP the evaluation was incomplete because it did not involve direct interviews with Shanley.
A 2002 civil suit brought allegations against the Archdiocese of Boston, which triggered a cascade of documents and disclosures from top officials. The disclosures contained names of priests the church had allegedly reassigned to quell allegations and suspicions of abuse, Shanley among them.
The early accusations against Shanley began a domino effect of more alleged victims coming forward, said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of Bishop Accountability, a watchdog group that collects data and documents on sexually abusive priests.
Doyle told The Post the Archdiocese of Boston should be held responsible for closely tracking Shanley.
“They created Paul Shanley. He should continue to be their problem,” Doyle said. Her organization maintains a database of names of about 4,000 clergymen and other religious figures accused of sexual assault, she said.
The Archdiocese of Boston released a statement Tuesday calling Shanley’s crimes “reprehensible,” adding “no young person should ever have to experience such violations of their safety and dignity.” In 2003, the Archdiocese of Boston settled a lawsuit of $85 million for 552 alleged victims of abuse.
Shanley’s release is possibly one of the last for men sent to prison as a result of the Globe’s investigations and related suits. Few priests were convicted due to statutes of limitations for alleged crimes committed many years in the past. Shanley moved to California in 1989, which stopped the clock on the statute, the Globe reported.
Ronald H. Paquin was released in 2015, 12 years after he pleaded guilty to raping a 12-year-old altar boy. Jesuit priest James Talbot was freed in 2011 after serving six years in prison for molesting two boys. Robert V. Gale was released in 2009 after five years following his guilty plea in the sexual assault of a boy.
John Geoghan was stomped and strangled to death in prison in 2003, one year into a nine- to 10-year sentence for child molestation.
Saviano, who reached a settlement with his alleged abuser and Massachusetts’s Worcester Diocese in 1995, has kept a watchful eye out for threats against Shanley, he said, and he is deleting threats of violence on his Facebook page. He said he is concerned that intense public scrutiny may back abusers into a corner where they might commit crimes in order to reach prison again.
“He’s out now. It’s too bad. He lived to be 86 and lived long enough to get out,” Saviano said. “The concern now is where he is and the degree of people keeping an eye on him.”
Saviano chooses to focus more on the survivors. His friend Joe Crowley brought accusations against Shanley and struggled with smoking and alcohol as a way to cope with his trauma, he told The Globe.
But Crowley was sober for more than 20 years, Saviano said, attributing his recovery to Shanley’s conviction and to helping other survivors. Crowley was found dead on Easter Sunday this year, at age 58.
“Were Joe alive to see Shanley get out of prison, I don’t think it would have taken away his sense of accomplishment,” Saviano said.