A former top aide to Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law defended a decision to let a Roman Catholic priest who had been accused of sexual misconduct serve as a mediator in a priest abuse case.
Bishop Robert Banks, the head of the Diocese of Green Bay, gave a statement and answered questions from reporters yesterday about the incident in the 1980s involving the Rev. Paul Shanley, who now faces multiple charges of sexually abusing boys.
Banks, deputy bishop in Boston until 1990, said Shanley was allowed to serve as mediator between the Rev. Daniel Graham and a man Graham allegedly abused as a youth.
The mediation was authorized in May 1988, when Banks was aware that Shanley had been accused of sexual overtures to another man, although Shanley denied it. Banks said he also knew that Shanley had made public comments advocating sex between men and boys.
He said he knew Shanley had given a talk “and mentioned something like that, and we spoke to him about that, to say that is inappropriate not only inappropriate, but it’s wrong.”
But Banks said he did not learn about accusations of Shanley sexually abusing minors until this year.
He said he agreed to the mediation request that was suggested by someone else, possibly Graham, because of Shanley’s experience ministering to the gay and street populations.
“I agreed to have Father Shanley talk to a victim who had accused another priest, Father Graham, of abusing him as a minor,” Banks said.
“Father Graham admitted to me that such abuse had taken place around 1970 – about 15 years before our conversation – when he was in his last year at seminary and first year in priesthood.
“I believed his story, had him checked out by a psychiatrist, and let him continue in ministry at his parish,” he said.
“We could do that back in the ’80s. That is not the case today. Father Graham was later checked by another panel in Boston and cleared for ministry. It is only now in the new era that he has been removed.”
Graham’s alleged victim said his willingness to talk to Shanley and the church’s decision to permit it make little sense to him now. He said he also had been abused by Shanley as a youth.
“Why would they have allowed Paul Shanley to get involved in this, knowing what they did about his history?” he said.
Graham has been accused of abusing others, but has denied those cases and remained in ministry until he was removed earlier this year.
Shanley has pleaded innocent to 10 counts of child rape and six counts of indecent assault and battery for allegedly sexually abusing boys from 1979 to 1989 while he was at St. Jean’s Parish in Newton, Mass.
Law testified last summer that church officials should have done more to investigate Shanley.
The Boston church received complaints in 1985 and 1988 that Shanley had publicly spoken in favor of man-boy love and had made sexual overtures toward a mentally ill man at a hospital where he served as chaplain.
Shanley denied the allegations, and church officials took no action.
Banks said the handling of priest abuse cases reflects a change in the attitudes of society, from a time decades ago when the church believed treatment of the abuser would solve the problem.
“It didn’t work, so now we’re basically treating it as a crime,” he said.