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Church in Crisis

Documents provoke fresh anger


A riveting two-and-a-half-hour televised news conference that included a guided tour through hundreds of pages of documentation dealing with priest sex abuse charges, may well be seen in the future as a defining event in the Boston clerical sex abuse scandal, one that sealed the fate of Cardinal Bernard Law, leader of the nation’s fourth largest Catholic archdiocese.

More and more anguished voices rose in anger, frustration and disgust, joining the growing chorus of Boston Catholics and non-Catholics alike calling for Law to resign. If that happens, as many expected it would sometime this weekend, Law would become the highest-ranking U.S. prelate to have his career destroyed by the priest sex abuse scandal.

Reporters gathered at the Sheraton Boston Hotel and Towers and television viewers throughout the city sat stunned and mesmerized for hours April 8, as Boston attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, guided his audience through 818 pages of documents.

They include archdiocesan memos, detailing what appears to be a four-decade pattern of secrecy and cover-up by archdiocesan officials.

MacLeish represents dozens of clients alleging sexual abuse by Fr. Paul R. Shanley, including Gregory Ford, 24, who has come forward publicly, charging -- in a civil law suit and perhaps a criminal one -- that Shanley, while assigned to St. John the Evangelist Parish in Newton, Mass., raped him repeatedly.

This was not the first time that it took a court order to force the archdiocese to release of information about the sex abuse scandal. As they did in the case of convicted pedophile and former priest John Geoghan, the Boston archdiocese waged a legal battle that included an attempt to gag the Ford family, preventing them from discussing the Shanley file publicly. Shanley’s last known residence was in California.

The Geoghan documents indicated a longstanding pattern of sexual abuse of children for at least two decades, involving the leadership of two cardinals. Those documents demonstrated that any number of church officials, including several bishops, seemed indifferent to various complaints and charges, shuttling Geoghan to a number of assignments without letting his new superiors know of the danger Geoghan posed to children.

While the Shanley file revealed a similar pattern of abuse, cover-up and secrecy, it was the graphic detail of Shanley’s abuse and his aberrant views on human sexuality that were so upsetting to those who listened to MacLeish’s presentation.

Underscoring the anguish of the victims and the gravity of the scandal, MacLeish said: “All of the suffering that has taken place at the hands of Paul Shanley -- a serial child molester for four decades, three of them in Boston -- none of it had to happen.”

For example, officials of the Boston archdiocese first learned in 1967 about allegations of Shanley’s sexual abuse of boys and young men. It was then that church leaders received more than a dozen complaints -- from another priest no less, detailing how several boys had been taken to a remote cabin and presumably molested. The complaints included the names and phone numbers of the children.

Then, in the 1970s, according to the documents, Boston archdiocesan officials also learned that Shanley advocated love and sex between men and boys. Shanley even defended bestiality and incest. According to a letter written by a disgusted Catholic layperson to the late Cardinal Humberto Medieros, Shanley, the writer said, could “think of no sexual act that causes psychic damage-- ‘not even incest or bestiality.’ ”

MacLeish also explained how the newly released church documents establish Shanley’s association with the North American Man Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA. The documents show, for instance, that Shanley attended the Boston Conference of Men and Boys, held in February of 1977. That conference is believed to be the beginning of the Man Boy Love Association. Present at that conference was at least one of the co-founders of the organization. Shanley himself is believed to be among the co-founders.

Both The Boston Globe and Boston Herald, as well as broadcast media outlets gave the news conference and its aftermath banner headlines. The Globe’s headline read “Shanley’s record long ignored,” while the Herald headlined the news: “Cover-up.”

More documents revealed

Major revelations in the documents, according to the Boston media outlets include:

  • Shanley had admitted to church officials, serving under both Law and Medieros, to sexual abuse including rape and sodomy.
  • Shanley’s “street priest” ministry, which extended outreach to the gay community, also included public lectures about homosexuality and sex with minors. Even Vatican officials had caught wind of these activities. Responding to Vatican correspondence, Medieros wrote in a letter dated Feb. 12, 1979: “I believe that Fr. Shanley is a troubled priest.”

For Boston’s lesbian and gay community, the local sex abuse scandal is unsettling because of the same-sex aspects of the abuse. Anti-gay critics have seized upon this detail, often concluding that if one is a pederast, one is also a homosexual.

Two men, Arthur Austin of Braintree, Mass., and John Harris of Norwood, Mass., both of whom have accused Shanley of sexual abuse, are openly gay. During an interview Austin said that as a young man of 20 he was facing a difficult time after the breakup of a same-sex relationship when Shanley took advantage of him.

Harris’ story is essentially the same. “I had gone to him for help at a difficult time in my life and he molested me in Milton, Mass., in that bungalow that’s been mentioned in the news,” Harris said in addressing the Good Friday gathering of prayer and protest outside Boston’s cathedral March 29.

MacLeish repeatedly emphasized his view and that of the Ford family that there is no credible evidence linking homosexuality with pedophilia. “No one should draw any connection between individuals who are gay and pedophilia.” MacLeish said several times during his talk.

As early as 1983, as the church files document, Shanley did not deny charges of having sex with several adolescent young men. A Nov. 5 memo, for example, states that Shanley “doesn’t dispute the substance” of those or other allegations of child rape, according to the Boston Herald.

Again, in memos and handwritten notes from doctors who had treated Shanley, church officials were told that he “admits to substance of complaints -- sexual activity with four adolescent males … over the years,” according to a March 3, 1994, memo, reported in the Boston Herald. That same memo also mentions “oral and anal rape” with a youth who sought pastoral counseling in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.

It was in 1993 that Shanley went to the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., for treatment. The Boston Globe reported that Shanley was sent to Hartford after victims had “pressed claims against the archdiocese.” Shanley also admitted that he had molested boys and had sex with both men and women.

Personality disorder

The Globe reported that those who treated Shanley concluded he had a personality disorder, was “narcissistic,” and “histrionic,” and “admitted to substantial complaints,” according to handwritten notes of archdiocesan official Fr. William F. Murphy. Those admissions, the Globe reported, cite “nine sexual encounters, four involving boys.”

Despite the evidence indicating that Shanley was a “troubled priest” if not a “sick person,” Law praised his ministry and service to the archdiocese, referring him to two other assignments, one during the early 1990s at St. Anne’s in San Bernardino, Calif. Shanley was also assigned in 1996 to the position of assistant director of Leo House, a guest home for transient people, including teenagers, located in New York City -- despite being on sick leave, according to a Shanley assignment chart, published in the Herald.

With respect to the San Bernadino assignment, California church authorities had no idea of Shanley’s troubled past because Law’s officials told them Shanley was “a priest in good standing,” according to the Globe.

In New York, Shanley was nearly promoted to director of Leo House, run by the Sisters of St. Agnes, on West 23rd Street. in Manhattan. He was serving as acting director, and may well have been promoted had not New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor vetoed the idea. For his part “Law was ready to approve his becoming permanent director in 1997,” according to the Globe.

Well before that, the nuns were on the trail of Shanley’s past. Sr. Anne Karlin, who worked at Leo House, wrote to Law on Dec. 13, 1994, telling him that she had received a phone call “presumably from a [Boston area] priest.” Karlin wrote, “After throwing out some wild accusations, he openly said that Fr. Paul Shanley was child molester [emphasis hers] and we had better be aware,” according to the Herald’s editorial page editor in a column.

Karlin continued, “Here I am with this time bomb. … Would you be so kind as to clarify Fr. Paul’s integrity and reputation and character … Please send me your truthful assessment at your earliest convenience.”

Nonetheless, Shanley stayed on at Leo House until 1997, having been granted status as senior priest.

Finally, after 36 years as a priest, Shanley was ready to retire. Even with all his knowledge of Shanley’s past misconduct, Law lavished praise on him in a letter dated, Feb. 29, 1996: “You brought God’s Word and His Love to His people and I know that that continues to be your goal despite difficult limitations.”

MacLeish was not the only person who spoke out during the press conference. Rodney Ford, father of Greg Ford, could not contain his grief and outrage. Fighting away tears, as he looked up at a large, overhead-projected image of his 6-year-old son, the father said: “That’s my son at 6 years. Look how happy he was. Shanley took his innocence. How would you feel? How do people feel who still support Cardinal Law? Look at him. That could be your child. It happens to be mine.”

Ford was direct in his remarks. “I am very upset that a lot of people knew about him and what he was doing. There’s been 26 complaints. In my belief I think he molested hundreds over this 30-year reign of terror. And I hope you [Shanley] rot [in] hell.”

Austin, who says that Shanley abused him from 1968 to 1974, also spoke. Austin recalled a conversation he had with an archdiocesan official, Fr. William F. Murphy, regarding Shanley’s abuse.

“He [Murphy] called me about three months after I had come forward in November of 1998 and said to me: ‘Arthur, I’m going to have to be very careful about meeting with you.’ I said, ‘Why is that, Bill?’ And he said to me, ‘Because I’ve spoken to experts here in the chancery who have told me that you are going to want from me what you wanted from Fr. Shanley.’ ”

The gasp in the audience was audible. Austin has said that incident was the last straw for him, driving him to leave the Roman Catholic church and to seek legal counsel.

Austin delivered a highly charged account of his abuse and had pointed words for Law: “You my cardinal, my prince of the church, my shepherd, my father in Christ, how long have I hungered at your indifferent door for a crumb of compassion, justice or mercy? Or even a crumb of simple honesty?

“You, Law, are a liar; your own documents condemn you. You are a criminal, a murderer of children; you degrade the office you hold in the church; you are an affront to Jesus Christ. …

“I name you one by one -- Bernard Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston; Wilson Rogers, attorney at law [archdiocesan legal counsel]; Paul Shanley, priest -- for the evil you are and the evil you’ve done. I accuse you before God and humanity. May you never prosper from this day on.” The Boston Globe published nearly the entire text of Austin’s personal statement April 8.

Painful experience

A spokeswoman for the cardinal issued a statement that evening. She said the archdiocese “has learned from the painful experience of the inadequate policies and procedures of the past. Whatever may have occurred in the past, there were no deliberate decisions to put children at risk.” There have been no further statements from the cardinal or his spokespersons. Law himself has not taken questions from the media on the scandal since Feb. 11.

But the shocking revelations of April 8 prompted more and more calls for the cardinal’s resignation. While the Boston Herald called on Law to resign weeks ago, both the Manchester, N.H., Union Leader and The Boston Globe held off until this past week. The Globe’s editorial headline read, “Losing faith in Law.” The Globe went on to say, “On Easter Sunday, flanked by bodyguards as he entered his own parish, the cardinal said, ‘The church is not a political institution, it is not a sociological institution, it is a community of faith.’ Just so. Law cannot ignore that too large a portion of the community has lost its faith in his leadership. Cardinal Law should resign.”

Other reactions covered a full range of views. The Boston Herald reported that Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly was “disgusted” by the details of the news conference. The Globe reported that Mary Denise Dunn, of North Chelmsford, Mass., once an ardent Law loyalist, who had organized a letter-writing campaign on his behalf, said this: “This is too much. Cardinal Law has done good things, especially for the poor. My heart aches for him. But I listened to the Shanley press conference on Monday and I wanted to vomit. I was sick to my stomach.” She now has called for Law to step down.

Other prominent Boston Catholics have come to the same conclusion, including Jack Connors Jr., founder of the advertising firm Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Inc.; John Hamill, CEO of Sovereign Bank of New England; Kevin C. Phelan, executive vice president of Meredith & Grew Inc.; and Thomas P. O’Neill III, former lieutenant governor, who two months ago went to the chancery to advise the cardinal.

Among Law’s remaining supporters are Herald columnist Joe Fitzgerald, former mayor of Boston Ray Flynn, and Jack Shaughnessy Sr. of Shaughnessy & Ahern Co., a crane and rigging company. “I do not think he should resign,” Shaughnessy told a Globe reporter. “I hope and pray he can bear up under this terrible pressure.”

Even politicians have voiced their displeasure with the cardinal, including state Sen. Marian Walsh, of the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston; and Democratic gubernatorial candidates Warren Tolman and Robert Reich, the former U.S. labor secretary.

In other news, Catholic Charities, one of the state’s largest social service providers, has reported a drop in financial contributions due to the scandal and controversy. “I can tell you that there have been some people who have told me in writing that they will not give Catholic Charities another gift until we have a new archbishop,” said executive director Joseph Doolin, quoted in the Globe.

Boston College officials, faculty and students have also expressed disapproval of the cardinal, saying they do not want Law to speak or attend the college’s commencement exercises this May. When the cardinal recently visited Regis College in Weston, Mass., he was greeted by demonstrators.

The same day that rumors began circulating of the cardinal’s imminent resignation, the parents of a teenager who died in a car crash announced their intention of filling a wrongful death lawsuit against the archdiocese.

Sheila and Harold Francis believe that Fr. Ronald H. Paquin may be responsible for the death of their son, James, who died in an automobile accident at the age of 16 in 1981. The couple says they have learned of credible evidence that Paquin sexually molested their son hours before the fatal accident, and that Paquin caused the accident when, under the influence of alcohol, he fell asleep while driving, according to Globe and Herald reports.

“I admire the victims for coming forward,” Sheila Francis told the Herald. “I have now learned that Jimmy was a victim.”

National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2002