Cardinal Bernard Law responded to the latest release of documents from the file of the Rev. Paul Shanley, telling parishioners in a letter that he did not learn until 1993 that the priest was accused of molesting boys.
Law rescinded Shanley’s authorization to be a parish priest in San Bernadino, Calif., after learning of the abuse allegations, the cardinal wrote in a letter distributed on Pentecost Sunday. He said he was not aware of allegations against Shanley dating to the 1960s until a few months ago.
The archdiocese faces civil suits alleging it knew of those allegations before it assigned Shanley to a Newton parish.
Records released earlier this year showed the archdiocese knew of abuse claims against Shanley as far back as 1967 and that he had spoken out in favor of sex between men and boys, but it did little more than transfer him from parish to parish. Law did not arrive in Boston until years later.
Fifty new documents from Shanley’s personnel file were released on Tuesday in what an attorney for alleged victims said represents “the strongest statement to date” that church leaders knew how dangerous the priest had become.
Law, who has been under pressure to resign as documents detailing the archdiocese’s handling of priests accused of sexual misconduct have been made public, again apologized for past errors in judgment, saying there was never an intent to put children at risk.
“When I arrived in Boston in 1984, I assumed that priests in place had been appropriately appointed,” Law said in the three-page letter.
“It did not enter into my mind to second-guess my predecessors, and it simply was not in the culture of the day to function otherwise. Despite the quantity of documents released and statements on the part of some indicating they know otherwise, before God I assure you that my first knowledge of an allegation of sexual abuse against this priest was in 1993.”
The Diocese of San Bernardino confirmed Sunday that it received a letter from Boston in October 1993 informing them of allegations against Shanley.
Law also wrote that when Shanley left Boston in 1990, it was at his own request for sick leave and had nothing to do with abuse allegations.
Calls to Roderick MacLeish, an attorney representing Shanley’s alleged victims, were not returned.
Shanley served a parish in Newton from 1983 to 1990. This month, he was extradited to Massachusetts to face charges he raped a boy over a six-year period in the 1980s, including in a church confessional.
Shanley has pleaded innocent to three criminal charges of child rape.
In the letter, Law again apologized for his role in the handling of priests facing allegations of sexual misconduct.
“The scandalous and painful details which have emerged sear our hearts,” he wrote. “The harm done to victims and their families is overwhelming. Bewilderment has given rise to anger and mistrust.”
Law said he does not remember a Newton woman telling him after a Mass in 1984 that Shanley had molested a child.
Jacqueline Gauvreau, however, said it would have been hard for Law to forget her.
“I jumped in front of him like Wonder Woman. How do you forget that?” she asked. “Could you forget somebody jumping in front of you and telling you one of your priests is a child molester?”
“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,” the cardinal wrote. “There is no record of that having happened, and furthermore, I had no suspicion about Father Shanley concerning this in the ensuing years.”