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Banks Says He Was Unaware of Shanley's Alleged Abusive History

Nov 22, 2002 | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Bishop Robert J. Banks challenged assertions Thursday that he overlooked sexual abuse allegations against Father Paul Shanley while serving as a top official in the Boston Archdiocese.

Banks, who has led the Green Bay Diocese since 1990, said he had no information about Shanley's alleged abusive history when he supported the defrocked priest's role as a mediator in a separate sexual abuse complaint involving Father Daniel Graham in May 1988.

Similarly, Banks said he was unaware of Shanley's alleged pedophilia in 1990, when he sent a letter supporting Shanley to church officials in San Bernardino, Calif.

"The headline in (Thursday's) Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about my overlooking the pedophilia of Father Shanley is simply not true," Banks said.

"The first time that I ever heard of Father Shanley's alleged pedophilia was this year," he said. "To accuse me of overlooking pedophilia is pretty serious."

At the time Banks authorized Shanley's role as a mediator, he was aware of complaints about statements Shanley had made regarding sex between men and boys during his time as a minister to the gay community and street people in Boston.

In a letter to the archdiocese, sent in 1985, a woman in Rochester, N.Y., complained about Shanley's preaching. The letter, quoted in a deposition by Cardinal Bernard F. Law, alleges that Shanley said: "When adults have sex with children, the children seduce them. Children may later regret having caused someone to go to prison, knowing that they are the guilty ones."

Banks said Thursday that he had not seen that letter, which was investigated by another church official.

He also said he did not review Shanley's file in the archdiocese offices before acting on the request that he be allowed to mediate, or before sending the letter endorsing him to San Bernardino church officials.

"What I knew about Father Shanley back in the 1980s is that he had earlier been assigned to minister to the gay community and the street people in Boston," Banks said in Green Bay on Thursday morning. "During that time, two incidents of inappropriate sexual talk by Father Shanley were brought to my attention. They were checked out.

"I did not know anything about allegations of pedophilia."

Shanley was arrested in San Diego in May and has been charged with attacking four boys between 1979 and 1989 while he was assigned to a church in Newton, Mass. He is being held on $300,000 bail, and faces 16 separate charges.

Banks served as the vicar for administration for the Archdiocese of Boston in the 1980s and dealt with priests and investigated allegations of abuse as a top aide to Cardinal Law. Banks reviewed allegations against Graham, Father John Geoghan and Father Joseph Birmingham, other Boston-area priests now accused of sexually assaulting minors.

Banks' role has been detailed in depositions of Law and other top Boston church officials as part of civil lawsuits filed in the ongoing sex abuse litigation. Four days of Law's testimony was released earlier this week.

The testimony includes the episode in which Banks authorized Shanley to step in as a mediator to work with a man who accused Graham of sexually abusing him in the late 1960s.

At the time, Banks reportedly knew of Shanley's prior remarks about sex between men and boys and had taken a complaint alleging the priest had made sexual overtures to a man in a mental hospital, where he served as a chaplain.

A memo from Banks says that Graham acknowledged he had sex with the accuser during his time in the seminary and as a young priest.

The victim later alleged that Shanley also had sexually abused him as a young boy.

After investigating the allegations against Graham, the archdiocese allowed him to continue his ministry. Graham was removed from the ministry earlier this year.

In his depositions, Law said he counted on subordinates, including Banks, to review such sexual assault allegations and make appropriate decisions.

Banks said Thursday that those decisions were made under different policies and philosophies in the 1980s.

"(My notes) show that back in the 1980s our first response was not to remove a priest from priestly ministry, as we do today, but try to save the priest from himself and for good priestly ministry.

"That did not work," he said.

In the Green Bay Diocese, the latest controversy had not had time to sink in Thursday. At St. Norbert College, a private Catholic school in neighboring De Pere, many had not yet learned of the allegations concerning Bishop Banks' use of Shanley to mediate an abuse complaint.

Paul Wadell, an associate professor of religious studies, has followed the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church closely, giving television interviews on the subject, but he had not had a chance to review the latest developments.

Still, the fact that fresh revelations continue to emerge, he said, "simply shows that despite the bishops' meeting in Washington, D.C., there are elements of this whole issue that need to be attended to, that won't go away."

Wadell said he believes the failures in leadership were serious enough in some places, such as the Boston Archdiocese, that the resignations of bishops might have been the best way to restore public confidence.

But he stressed, "I don't at all sense that that has happened here (in Green Bay). I have not sensed any calls for Bishop Banks' resignation."

Tom Reynolds, who teaches religious studies at St. Norbert, said he was not familiar with the latest controversy, but said Banks is well thought of in the diocese.

"I don't think he's burned bridges to the extent where people would want to see him defamed in any way," Reynolds said.

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