For more than two decades, the Rev. Paul Shanley built a reputation as a “street priest,” establishing a ministry for runaways, drug abusers, drifters and teen-agers struggling with sexual identity.
But Shanley apparently had another side. Newly released documents indicate he had a long history of sexual misconduct allegations and publicly defended sex between men and boys.
How much Roman Catholic leaders knew of Shanley’s other side is at the center of a lawsuit alleging superiors were aware of Shanley’s past yet allowed him access to children in different parishes for three decades.
In 1979, then-Boston Archdiocese Cardinal Humberto Medeiros was concerned enough that he reassigned Shanley from a youth ministry. “I believe that Father Shanley is a troubled priest,” he later told the Vatican.
Yet Shanley was allowed to continue in the priesthood for years. When he moved to California to join the San Bernardino Diocese in 1990, he served for three years without restriction on his contact with children.
“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,” said Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney for the family of alleged abuse victim Gregory Ford, 24.
Ford, who said he repeatedly was raped by Shanley in the 1980s, also alleges that Boston Cardinal Bernard Law allowed the priest to remain as pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish until 1989, despite knowledge of his behavior.
The archdiocese, in a statement, said it “has learned from the painful experience of the inadequate polices and procedures of the past,” but added church officials were confident that current policies “are focused in a singular way on the protection of children.”
“Whatever may have occurred in the past, there were no deliberate decisions to put children at risk,” said the statement from spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey.
Shanley, 71, did not return a call for comment left on his answering machine in San Diego, where he has been living for the past two years. He remains a priest, but no longer has a parish.
The Boston Archdiocese has been rocked over the past few months by a sex scandal that largely began with former priest John J. Geoghan, who has been accused of molesting more than 130 youngsters and is serving a prison sentence for groping a boy in a swimming pool. Documents released months ago show that the archdiocese knew about the allegations against him but did little more than transfer him from parish to parish.
The case has set off child-sex allegations around the country and has led to the suspension or resignation of dozens of priests.
On Monday, MacLeish showed reporters some of the 818 church records turned over to Ford under court order. The records include 26 complaints of sex abuse against Shanley, MacLeish said. Shanley has not been criminally charged in any of them.
One document is a copy of a Feb. 12, 1979, issue of a publication called GaysWeek that included an article titled “Men & Boys.”
The article described a meeting of 150 people in Boston on the topic of man-boy love. It said many speakers representing various religions endorsed such relationships — including Shanley, who was there representing then-Cardinal Medeiros’ program for outreach to sexual minorities.
The article described an anecdote Shanley recounted about a boy “who was rejected by family and society but helped by a boy-lover.” The relationship was discovered and the man was sent to prison, a move that Shanley blamed for “the psychic demise” of the boy who “had loved that man.”
The North American Man Boy Love Association apparently was formed at the end of the conference by 32 men and two teens. There was no indication that Shanley was among the founders.
The same month as the NAMBLA meeting, Medeiros sent a letter to the a cardinal at the Vatican, saying he had told Shanley he was “confusing people” with his teachings about homosexuality. Shanley had produced tapes for distribution called “Changing Norms of Sexuality.”
The earliest document related to Shanley’s alleged abuse dates to 1967: A priest in Attleboro, Mass., wrote a letter to the archdiocese, relating allegations that Shanley had taken boys to a cabin and molested them.
When Shanley moved to California in 1990 after a medical leave from Boston, the Rev. Robert J. Banks wrote to San Bernardino officials to say, “I can assure you that Father Shanley has no problem that would be concern to your diocese.”
Banks is now bishop in Green Bay, Wis. In a one-sentence statement released Monday, the bishop said, “Obviously I was not aware of any allegations against Father Shanley before I sent the letter.”
In 1995, Shanley moved to New York to become assistant director of Leo House, which housed transients, clergy, people visiting the sick, students and travelers.
The following year, Law wrote Shanley to inform him he was ending his sick leave status and was granting him senior priest/retirement status.
“For thirty years in assigned ministry you brought God’s Word and His love to His people and I know that continues to be your goal despite some difficult limitations,” Law said.
Shanley continued to work at Leo House and in 1997, he was considered for promotion to the job of house director. Law drafted a letter to Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, telling him Shanley had done good work, but acknowledging the promotion could draw publicity, according to the documents. O’Connor decided against the promotion and the letter was never sent.
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