When the Rev. Paul R. Shanley resigned his position at a Newton church and moved to a California parish, it fell to Bishop Robert J. Banks, then the top administrator in the Boston Archdiocese, to write a 1990 letter assuring California church officials that Shanley was a priest in good standing.
But in pretrial testimony released yesterday, Banks acknowledged that when he wrote the letter, he had been told of allegations that Shanley had spoken in favor of sex between adults and children and had allegedly initiated a conversation about sadomasochism with a patient while serving as chaplain at McLean Hospital.
Over a two-day deposition taken in November, Banks, now the bishop of the Green Bay, Wis., diocese, also said that in writing an open letter to his parishioners last May, he omitted significant facts when explaining the role he had played overseeing Shanley’s career in Boston.
”At the time I wrote the  letter, there was no obvious indication that Fr. Shanley had been in serious difficulty with the archdiocese years before,” Banks wrote to his parishioners. ”When I wrote, he had been a pastor in good standing for years.”
But Banks never said – either in his 1990 letter or his more recent letter to his parishioners that he had personally reviewed 1985 correspondence from a Rochester, N.Y., woman who said she had a tape recording of a speech in which Shanley endorsed sex between adults and children and said that children were typically the seducers in such relationships.
When asked by attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. why he had omitted the information, Banks replied, ”I forgot.”
In his deposition, Banks, the vicar general of the Boston Archdiocese under Cardinal Bernard F. Law from 1984 to 1990, initially said he could not recall the letter from the Rochester woman. But church records show that he reviewed her correspondence.
Banks also acknowledged that in 1988, he personally heard the complaint of a former McLean Hospital patient who said Shanley had initiated a conversation about sadomasochism and had ”come on” to him.
Banks, even though this was the second time he had heard a complaint against Shanley, later wrote the former hospital patient to say he could take no action because Shanley had denied the allegation.
In his letter to Green Bay parishioners last year, Banks said he had interviewed Shanley about the complaint and that Shanley had denied the conversation took place. But court records presented to Banks during his deposition show that he interviewed Shanley and that Shanley merely said he couldn’t recall details of it.
MacLeish, who is representing several men who say they were raped by Shanley during the 1980s, said the allegations known to Banks should have prompted him to review Shanley’s church file, which contained a 1966 allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, and to consider removing Shanley from his pastorship at Newton’s now-shuttered St. Jean the Evangelist Church.
”What we’re seeing here is continuing evidence that there were high-ranking officials in the archdiocese, in this case the number two official under Cardinal Law, who knew that Paul Shanley posed a threat to children,” MacLeish said.
Banks could not be reached for comment. But in his deposition, Law’s former top deputy defended his decisions to restore the ministry of several additional priests accused of abusing children, saying he deferred to the advice of medical specialists and to the word of the accused priests themselves.
At one point, Banks acknowledged that the Boston Archdiocese did not always supply clinicians examining suspect priests with the full history of the clerics’ alleged abuse.
”Would there be a search of that priest’s records to see if there had been other allegations of sexual misconduct made in the past?” Banks was asked.
”No, I did not do that,” Banks testified. Asked why, he replied, ”I didn’t think it was necessary.”
Under a policy adopted by American bishops last year, when a priest is accused of abuse, bishops are supposed to conduct a preliminary investigation and then, if there is evidence of abuse, notify the Vatican and temporarily remove the priest from ministry.
Banks made it clear he operated, during his Boston years, under more lenient rules. ”It’s a different situation today,” he said.
Banks said he received a report in 1985 from a physician who reported that the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, accused of abusing scores of boys, had been sexually involved with minors as early as 1963.
But when MacLeish asked Banks what action he took to find how many boys had been victimized by Birmingham, who died in 1989, Banks said, ”I don’t recall doing anything.”
Banks also acknowledged that he did nothing to block Birmingham’s return to ministry as parochial vicar at St. Brigid’s Church in Lexington in 1987.
Asked if he believed he had made judgment errors in Birmingham’s case, Banks was resolute. ”I can’t say that. No, I don’t.”
As a canon law professor beginning in 1959 at St. John’s Seminary, where he ultimately served as rector until 1981, Banks was familiar with the most notorious of the allegedly abusive priests, including Birmingham, Shanley, and John J. Geoghan, the now defrocked and imprisoned pedophile.
Asked about an instance where Banks allowed Shanley to mediate a complaint against the Rev. Daniel M. Graham, Banks said, ”Paul Shanley had a reputation in the diocese or had had an assignment in the diocese of ministering to homosexuals, and of being, in a sense, an expert in that area.”
Shanley had been removed from a street ministry by the late Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros after the Vatican raised concerns about Shanley’s support for gay sex.
Banks also testified that he rejected a recommendation from the Rev. John B. McCormack, now the bishop of Manchester, N.H., in the case of another allegedly abusive priest, the Rev. George Rosenkranz. McCormack wanted to send Rosenkranz to a Canadian treatment center, according to a document read at the deposition.
But Banks overruled him, writing to Rosenkranz in May 1988 that an archdiocesan investigation had cleared him of the allegations.
In October 1989, Rosenkranz was arrested in a police raid of a highway parking lot and charged with lewd conversation and indecent assault on an undercover police officer. It was his second arrest on sexual misconduct charges.
”The judgment that you made about Father Rosenkranz’s credibility turned out to be incorrect, is that correct?” MacLeish asked Banks.
”Yes,” the bishop answered.