After the Rev. Paul R. Shanley stepped down as pastor of a Newton parish and moved quietly to California and then New York, aides to Cardinal Bernard F. Law were so concerned that the wayward priest might return to Boston that they took extraordinary steps to help keep him far away and far from scrutiny.
In one instance, Law’s aides decided not to share a summary of sexual misconduct allegations against Shanley with the church board which reviews cases of accused clergy and advises on their future assignments and discipline. Law’s assistants also neglected to tell the board that Shanley had taken a position working with an accused sex offender at a Catholic-affiliated hostel in New York City.
Those omissions, coming at a time when the risks posed by unsupervised child molesters were well understood, were acknowledged in pretrial testimony by the Monsignor Brian M. Flatley, which was released yesterday as part of a lawsuit filed by some of Shanley’s alleged victims.
Flatley, who served as Law’s delegate for clergy sexual misconduct from 1994 to 1996, said he could not explain the omissions and acknowledged that church officials acted in other ways to keep Shanley far from his accusers in the Boston archdiocese. In a 1995 memo, Flatley recommended approval of a Shanley proposal that he be allowed to move to an unnamed country because it ”would secure anonymity for him.”
Flatley, who today is pastor at St. Agnes Church in Arlington, also said during two days of depositions taken in September and October of last year that it was his standard practice to meet with Law about once every six weeks and discuss the status of accused clergy.
In pretrial testimony of his own, Law has portrayed himself as an administrator who delegated authority for the supervision of accused priests to subordinates. But under questioning by attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., Flatley said that he and Law routinely discussed the specifics of clergy sexual misconduct cases:
Q. MacLeish: Cardinal Law wanted to know the details during these meetings of priests that were accused of sexual misconduct; is that correct?
A. Flatley: That’s correct.
Q. MacLeish: So your typical practice was to discuss those situations involving priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct in detail with Cardinal Law; is that correct?
A. Flatley: That’s correct.
Neither Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, nor J. Owen Todd, Law’s personal attorney, would comment on Flatley’s deposition.
In his testimony, Flatley frequently responded to questions with one and two-word answers as he acknowledged that Shanley was often the beneficiary of ”unique treatment” not afforded to other priests accused of sexual misconduct.
For instance, Flatley confirmed that, acting at Shanley’s request, he arranged for the church to pay at least a portion of Shanley’s legal bills associated with sexual abuse allegations through the archdiocesan Clergy Assistance Trust.
And he acknowledged that Boston officials did not immediately tell their counterparts in the New York Archdiocese about the allegations against Shanley, even though Shanley was working at Leo House, a Catholic-affiliated hostel where children stayed.
In his questioning, MacLeish suggested that Shanley received favorable treatment from the archdiocese because he was blackmailing church officials. Church records released last year show Shanley may have attempted to blackmail church officials on at least two occasions with threats to reveal scandalous information about the church.
At one point, Shanley tried and apparently failed to blackmail the late Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros into reversing his decision to end Shanley’s controversial 1970s-era street ministry.
Years later, Shanley, in a letter to Flatley soliciting support for the job of director of Leo House, said he had kept a promise to not tell anyone that he had been sexually abused by an unnamed cardinal.
When asked if Shanley’s letter to him sounded like blackmail, Flatley said, ”It sounds like he kept a promise.”
In a separate deposition of Monsignor William M. Helmick, who served as secretary to Medeiros and Law from 1971 to 1987, MacLeish focused on Shanley’s seemingly untouchable status during his earlier tenure as a street minister to runaways and gay youth, and his years as an administrator and pastor at the now-closed St. John the Evangelist Parish in Newton.
”Have you, in your entire experience as a Roman Catholic priest, ever seen a priest acting as brazenly as Paul Shanley appears to act?” MacLeish asked, in a transcript of the deposition released yesterday.
”Not to my memory,” replied Helmick, who agreed with MacLeish’s characterizations of Shanley’s public remarks as ”perverted” and ”insubordinate.”.
Asked if he had any explanation for Shanley’s charmed existence, given the number of complaints against him, Helmick answered, ”I don’t.”
Also released yesterday was MacLeish’s deposition of Sister Rita McCarthy, who served as the archdiocesan liaison for sexual abuse victims from 1994 to 1997.
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