In a remarkable letter distributed Sunday to Roman Catholic parishes here, Cardinal Bernard Law insisted he knew nothing of the questionable history of a Boston priest charged with child rape.
The cardinal said he had “absolutely no memory” of anyone personally informing him as early as 1984 that Father Paul Shanley had molested a child.
Law also acknowledged the damage the massive sexual abuse scandal has caused him personally. “Bewilderment has given rise to anger and distrust,” Law wrote. “In the process, my credibility has been publicly questioned and I have become for some an object of contempt.” The debate over whether Law protected an alleged pedophile priest at the expense of parishioners has prompted mounting calls for the cardinal’s resignation.
The three-page missive, faxed to news organizations Sunday evening, represents the first time the Boston Archdiocese has issued such an aggressive public relations defense in the face of civil suits filed against Law regarding claims involving Shanley as well as a former priest from the nation’s fourth largest archdiocese.
The cardinal’s statement follows Tuesday’s release of archdiocese records sought by Gregory Ford and his family. Ford, 24, claims to have been abused by Shanley.
Previously, the archdiocese has released more than 1,600 pages of records from Shanley’s personnel file, also in conjunction with the Fords’ lawsuit. The records show the archdiocese knew as far back as 1967 that there were abuse claims against Shanley and that he had spoken out in favor of sex between men and boys.
“Because only selected passages of many documents have been made public, I would like to give again an account of my stewardship in handling these cases,” Law wrote Sunday.
Law asserted in the letter that he did not know about sexual abuse allegations against Shanley until 1993, when the former “street priest” had been transferred to a parish in Southern California.
Immediately after the allegations were made, Law wrote, “the authorization for him to serve as a priest in California was rescinded.”
Further, Law said, “I was not aware until these recent months of the allegations against [Shanley] from as early as 1966.”
Law’s letter contends that Shanley left Boston for California on sick leave. His transfer “had nothing to do with an issue of sexual abuse,” according to the cardinal.
Shanley, 71, is being held on $300,000 bail in Cambridge, Mass. He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of child rape.
Shanley, a flamboyant figure in Boston known for his outreach work on the streets, was recommended in an archdiocese letter as “a priest in good standing” when he moved to San Bernardino in 1990.
“The attestation that he was a priest in good standing at the time was in accord with the facts as I knew them,” Law said in his Sunday letter.
Admitting that documents recently released by the archdiocese might suggest otherwise, Law added: “Before God, I assure that my first knowledge of an allegation of sexual abuse against this priest was in 1993.”
Calls on Sunday night to the Ford family were not returned. Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents Ford and several other alleged Shanley victims, also was unavailable for comment.
There was no answer Sunday night at the Boston Archdiocese.
Law’s letter took issue with reports that a member of St. Jean the Evangelist Church approached him after Mass in 1984 to tell him that Shanley was abusing children.
“I have absolutely no memory of such a conversation, and those who have worked most closely with me can attest that such a report would have been acted upon,” Law said.