The Archdiocese of Boston knew that one of its priests, now accused of rape, spoke in favor of sex between men and boys at a 1979 meeting that apparently led to the founding of a national group advocating the practice, according to court documents released Monday. The documents also show archdiocese officials knew of sexual misconduct allegations against the priest, the Rev. Paul Shanley, since at least 1967, but continued to allow him access to children in different parishes for three decades.
The documents also show that archdiocese officials had been told as early as 1977 about Shanley’s teachings on sex between men and boys. He continued to serve as a parish priest for several years.
“All of the suffering that has taken place at the hands of Paul Shanley, a serial child molester for four decades â€” three of them in Boston â€” none of it had to happen,” said Roderick MacLeish, an attorney for the family of alleged abuse victim Gregory Ford, 24.
Ford has claimed in a lawsuit he was repeatedly raped by Shanley in the 1980s. The suit also alleges Cardinal Bernard Law allowed the priest to remain as pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Newton until 1989, despite knowledge of his behavior.
The archdiocese said in a statement Monday it “has learned from the painful experience of the inadequate polices and procedures of the past” but said church officials were confident that current policies are focused “on the protection of children.”
Shanley, 71, has no telephone listing in the San Diego area, where he has been living for the past two years, and could not immediately be located for comment. He remains a priest but no longer has a parish.
In a letter in his file to the Rev. Brian M. Flatley, assistant to the Secretary for Ministerial Personnel in Boston, Shanley alleged he was sexually abused as a teen-ager and later as a seminarian.
The archdiocese has been rocked by a sex scandal that largely began with former priest John 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 the archdiocese knew about the child-molestation 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.
Shanley was ordained in 1960 and became well known as a “street priest” over the next two decades. He established a ministry for runaways, drug abusers, drifters and teen-agers struggling with sexual identity.
MacLeish showed reporters some of the 818 church records turned over to Ford under court order.
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 â€” including Shanley, who was there as a representative of then-Cardinal Humberto Medeiros’ program for outreach to sexual minorities.
The article described an anecdote Shanley shared at the conference about a boy “who was rejected by family and society but helped by a boy-lover.”
The relationship ended when it was discovered by the boy’s parents, and the man was sent to prison.
“And there began the psychic demise of that child,” Shanley reportedly said. “He had loved that man. It was only a brief and passing thing as far as the sex was concerned but the love was deep and the gratitude to the man was deep.
“We have our convictions upside down if we are truly concerned with boys,” he said, apparently referring to the punishment meted out to the man. “The cure does far more damage.”
The North American Man Boy Love Association apparently was formed at the end of the conference by 32 men and two teen-agers. There was no indication in the article that Shanley was among them.
“This we believe was the start of the so-called NAMBLA organization,” MacLeish said. “Paul Shanley was there at its inception. And within the Archdiocese of Boston is a record confirming his attendance and quoting him.”
The article was sent to the archdiocese by a lawyer in New York who said he thought church officials should know.
But other documents show church officials already knew about sexual deviance claims against Shanley.
In February 1979, the same month as the NAMBLA meeting, Medeiros sent a letter to the Vatican in response to questions from the Vatican in November 1978 about Shanley.
“I believe that Father Shanley is a troubled priest and I have tried to be understanding and patient with him while continuously affirming both privately to him and publicly to my people the church’s teaching on sexual ethics,” Medeiros wrote.
In the letter, Medeiros told Cardinal Franjo Seper that he had met with Shanley and told the priest he was “confusing people” with his teachings about homosexuality. Shanley had produced tapes for distribution called “Changing Norms of Sexuality.”
That same year, Medeiros reassigned Shanley to St. John the Evangelist Parish.
The earliest document related to sex abuse dates to 1967: A priest at LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro wrote a letter of concern to the archdiocese, relating allegations that Shanley had taken boys to a cabin and molested them.
Shanley moved to California and joined the San Bernardino Diocese in 1990 after a medical leave from Boston. He served at St. Anne Catholic Church in San Bernardino for three years without restriction on his contact with children.
Last week, Shanley was fired as a volunteer with the San Diego Police Department.
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