Pedophile priest Paul Shanley, key figure in Boston clergy sex abuse scandal, dead at 89

By Anne-Gerard Flynn
Republican via MassLive
November 07, 2020

This undated identification photo released Friday, July 28, 2017, via the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry Board website, shows former Roman Catholic priest Paul Shanley, an inmate at the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater. Shanley, who played a pivotal role in the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Archdiocese of Boston, died Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, authorities said. He was 89.

WARE — Convicted pedophile priest Paul Shanley, a key figure in the Archdiocese of Boston clergy sex abuse scandal, has died. He was 89.

Shanley, who was removed from ministry by the Vatican in 2004 and convicted of child rape a year later in a landmark case in Middlesex Superior Court that rested on the repressed memories of a 27-year-old man, had been a Ware resident since his release from prison as a level 3 sex offender in 2017, and police in that Hampshire County town confirmed in media reports Nov. 6 his death Oct. 28 of heart failure.

The Boston Archdiocese, which has paid millions of dollars to victims of clergy sexual abuse, including those with allegations against Shanley, released a statement acknowledging his death and what it called the “harm caused to so many.”

“The harm caused to so many by Paul Shanley is immeasurable," the statement said.

“His victims showed great courage in exposing his crimes and fighting for justice both within the criminal justice system and the Church. We are indebted to Shanley’s victims and all victims of clergy abuse for what they have done to stop the abuse, assure that the Church supports healing for those abused, and puts the protection of children at the top of our priorities.”

The Vatican removed Shanley from ministry only after he was arrested and numerous complaints of child sexual abuse were filed against him, even though the release, under court order, of archdiocesan records and documents showed church officials at the highest levels knew for decades of such allegations and continued to allow him to minister.

In her Jan. 31, 2002 profile on Shanley, Boston Globe Spotlight reporter Sacha Pfeiffer described the Dorchester-born Shanley, who attended St. John’s Seminary in Boston and was ordained in 1960, as a “handsome and charismatic” priest who did street ministry to alienated youth for two decades beginning in the 1960s, and his story as “among the most insidious cases of clergy sex abuse” her team investigated.

His death provides perspective on what it has taken and continues to take, particularly on the part of complainants willing to coming forward with allegations of clergy sexual abuse, to show the Catholic Church’s lack of accountability and transparency in addressing the issue, what clergy were involved either as abusers or protectors and the steps taken to conceal information in archives as well as rely on statutes of limitation around cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

The Boston Globe Spotlight team revealed decades of the archdiocese’s coverup of such abuse, and the movie based on the investigation highlighted the early efforts of Attorney Mitchell Garabedian to expose it and obtain diocesan documents in his suit against the Rev. John Geoghan, who was removed from ministry by the Vatican in 1998, and later murdered in prison where he had served one year of a 9-to-10 year sentence for sexually assaulting a child.

Asked about Shanley’s death, Garabedian, who represented 50 complainants who alleged sexual abuse by the priest, said, “Unfortunately, even though Paul Shanley has passed, courageous victims are still coming forward to try to heal and the Archdiocese of Boston must continue to be monitored with regard to practices of cover up concerning the safety of children.”

“The passing of Paul Shanley serves as a reminder of how great the emotional pain caused by a pedophile priest can be to so many innocent children and how dangerous an institution such as the Archdiocese of Boston can be when it chooses to cover up the evil acts of child abuse,” Garabedian added.

“History has taught us that we must be forever diligent in protecting children from pedophiles such as Paul Shanley and from senseless cover up by not only the Archdiocese of Boston, but all institutions.”

The Globe’s investigation helped spur the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law as Boston’s archbishop and the court-ordered release of thousands of pages of documents related to clerical sexual abuse allegations in the archdiocese and the coverup by members of its hierarchy, like Law, in transferring those named among parishes.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley was appointment Law’s successor in Boston and millions of dollars of settlement agreements have since been reached with complainants though such civil suits do not involve admission of guilt.

When lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr. reached a 2004 settlement with the Boston archdiocese involving four Shanley complainants, he called Shanley "a human wrecking ball throughout eastern Massachusetts for decades.”

His clients include the individual who testified in the 2005 criminal trial for which Shanley was given the 12-to-14 year sentence and found guilty of raping the man as a Sunday school student back in the 1980s.

It was MacLeish who, acting on behalf of a client, obtained under a court order in 2002 for the release of some 800 pages of archdiocesan documents that included letters dating back to the 1960s that alleged Shanley had molested boys and promoted sexual relations between children and adults.

Documents released at the time on Shanley were said to show his treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, his attendance at a conference at which the North American Man-Boy Love Association was apparently created and that, despite knowing this, the archdiocese assigned him to minister at a parish in Newton in 1980 where he was subsequently accused of sexually abusing several boys.

The archdiocese sent him to California in 1990 without warning church leaders there that he had been accused repeatedly of sexually abusing children. He was assigned part-time to the San Bernardino Diocese until 1993, and then he moved to San Diego.

He was arrested in 2002 in California on a fugitive warrant requesting his extradition to Boston where three charges of child rape had been filed against him.

The Boston archdiocese’s knowledge of allegations against the priest are said to extend as far back as 1967 when a colleague at the LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro wrote a letter to the archdiocese, claiming that Shanley had taken boys to a cabin and masturbated them.

The documents also reveal that in allowing Shanley to move out of state with little supervision the archdiocese was more interested in his agreement in doing this than addressing its knowledge that Shanley, who had spent time at the Institute of Living in Hartford in 1993, had acknowledged but failed to address allegations “in a therapeutic environment” and that his behavior flagged a number of concerns around judgement making, narcissism and depression.

According to ProPublica, the Boston archdiocese has released the names of 171 priests considered credibly accused of sexual abuse to date.

It is estimated that lawsuits by abuse victims have costs dioceses and religious orders more than $3 billion and a number of dioceses have filed for bankruptcy as a result.


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