Boston Diocese Protected Priest Long Linked to Abuse
April 9, 2002
By PAM BELLUCK
New York Times
BOSTON, April 8 - High-ranking officials in the Boston
Archdiocese vouched for the character of a priest when he
was transferred to California and later New York, even
though they knew he had been accused of sexual abuse over
30 years, according to documents released today.
The documents, provided by a lawyer representing accusers
who obtained them under court order from the Roman Catholic
Archdiocese of Boston, paint a picture of how church
officials at the highest levels knew for years about
accusations of sexual abuse against the priest, the Rev.
Paul Shanley, but allowed him to work as a priest and have
contact with children.
In many ways the documents are more detailed and
incriminating to church officials than the papers released
in the case of John J. Geoghan, who was shuttled from one
parish to another in the Boston area before being defrocked
and convicted of indecent assault.
Church officials declined to comment today on the documents
but said in a statement that "the archdiocese has learned
from the painful experience of the inadequate policies and
procedures of the past."
Father Shanley, now 70 and apparently living in San Diego,
could not be found for comment. But diocesan documents
refer to him as not disputing accusations that he had
molested teenagers in at least three cases.
The case of Father Shanley extended well beyond the borders
of the Boston Archdiocese. The documents released today
show that Boston church officials told their counterparts
in San Bernardino, Calif., that Father Stanley was a priest
"in good standing" who "has no problem that would be a
concern to your diocese" as he was being transferred there
in 1990. In addition, the documents show that Father
Shanley told Boston Archdiocese officials he was performing
baptisms and leading youth retreats in his new position.
In 1995, supplying little, if any, information about the
background of Father Shanley, who was still attached to the
archdiocese, Boston church officials allowed him to be
acting director of a Catholic guest house for students and
clergy members in Manhattan. Within a few months of Father
Shanley's arrival in New York, officials with the New York
Archdiocese learned of the priest's background but were
told by Boston officials that "Father Shanley's sexual
acting out appears to have ceased in part due to a prostate
condition," the documents show.
The documents, which include letters and internal
archdiocese memos, show that the Boston officials received
the first of about 15 complaints about Father Shanley in
1967, from another priest who provided the names and phone
numbers of three boys whom he said Father Shanley had taken
to a secluded cabin in the woods.
And the documents show that in the 1970's, the Boston
Archdiocese received information that Father Shanley was
giving public and impassioned defenses of pedophilia,
including comments at what was apparently the formative
meeting in Boston of the North American Man-Boy Love
Association in 1979.
In another speech, in 1977, according to a letter to the
archdiocese from a woman in the audience, Father Shanley,
who at the time was in charge of the archdiocese's ministry
to alienated youths, discussed pedophilia. In the letter,
he is quoted as saying, "The adult is not the seducer - the
`kid' is the seducer, and further the kid is not
traumatized by the act per se, the kid is traumatized when
the police and authorities `drag' the kid in for
The documents released today are the strongest indication
that the Boston Archdiocese followed a pattern of inaction
and secrecy in its handling of priests who were the subject
of sexual abuse complaints. Many of the memos and letters
were written by senior archdiocesan officials who are now
bishops of their own dioceses, including Bishop John B.
McCormack of New Hampshire and Bishop Robert J. Banks of
Green Bay, Wis.
In January, documents released in the Geoghan case showed
that church officials knew about Father Geoghan's admitted
pedophilia, but allowed him to return to parish work after
Like the Geoghan files, the Shanley records portray an
archdiocese that was more concerned about avoiding scandal
and being compassionate toward its priests than it was in
counseling or even contacting the victims.
Both Cardinal Bernard F. Law and his predecessor, Cardinal
Humberto Medeiros, were aware of many of the accusations
against Father Shanley, the documents suggest. Cardinal Law
also received a memo in 1995 referring to an assessment
that was made at the Institute for Living, a treatment
center in Connecticut, two years earlier that found that
Father Shanley "has a great deal of psychological
Yet as late as 1997, even after the archdiocese had settled
at least one sexual abuse case against Father Shanley and
had several others pending, Cardinal Law wrote a letter to
Cardinal John J. O'Connor that supported Father Shanley
being chosen for a permanent position at Leo House, the New
York guest house.
And the documents suggest that Boston officials were well
aware that California and New York was taking a a problem
priest off their hands. "If he came back I do not know what
we would do with him," wrote Bishop Alfred Hughes in a 1990
internal memo discussing whether Father Shanley should be
allowed to return to Boston from California.
The documents were released today by Roderick MacLeish Jr.,
a lawyer who received them from the archdiocese as part of
a lawsuit on behalf of a man, Greg Ford, 24, who said he
was molested by Father Shanley from 1983 to 1989.
"All of the suffering caused by Paul Shanley over four
decades didn't have to happen," Mr. MacLeish said. "This
man was a monster in the Archdiocese of Boston for many
years. He had beliefs about pedophilia that no rational
person could defend."
Mr. Ford and another client of Mr. MacLeish, Paul Busa,
also 24, say that beginning at the age of 6, they were
pulled out of catechism classes by Father Shanley each week
at St. John the Evangelist Church in Newton. Mr. Busa said
in an interview on Friday that Father Shanley molested him
in the bathroom, the rectory or the confessional, sometimes
while he had Mr. Ford and another boy, Anthony Driscoll,
waiting in another part of the church.
"He called it `special duties,' " Mr. Busa said. "I
remember him telling me that if I told anybody, nobody
would believe me."
Robert A. Sherman, Mr. MacLeish's partner in the firm
Greenberg Traurig, said that in recent weeks 11 accusers of
Father Shanley had come forward to the firm; added to the
cases described in the diocesan records, that brings the
total number of complaints against him to 26 so far.
There have been no criminal charges brought against Father
Shanley, though Mr. Ford's lawyers have taken his case to
the police. But the Boston Archdiocese has settled at least
three abuse lawsuits involving Father Shanley, at least one
of them in 1991, while he was in California and before he
went to New York.
Father Shanley was a colorful and controversial priest in
his early years, earning the nickname the "hippie priest"
for his long hair and outspoken views, including his public
rejection of the church's condemnation of homosexuality.
In 1979, after being told about Father Shanley's activity
with the Man-Boy Love group, Cardinal Medeiros removed him
from the alienated-youth ministry, documents show, but made
him an associate pastor at the Newton church.
In 1981, a parishioner, Jacqueline Gavreau, began
complaining loudly to archdiocesan officials and others
that Father Shanley had groped a young man she knew, Ms.
Gavreau said in an interview. One of the memos released
today, dated 1982, indicates that a bishop advised another
senior chancery official to pay no attention to her calls,
saying, "Let her stay hanging on the phone."
In 1984, Father Shanley was promoted to pastor of St.
John's. In 1986 and again in 1987, Ms. Gavreau said she
confronted Cardinal Law about Father Shanley at church
In 1988, according to notes written by Bishop Robert Banks,
a patient at a hospital where Father Shanley was chaplain
complained that the priest "was coming on to him" by
graphically discussing sado-masochism.
In 1989, when a decision was made to transfer Father
Shanley from Newton to California, Cardinal Law wrote him a
letter praising his "impressive record."
In 1991, while Father Shanley was in San Bernardino, an
internal memo from Father John B. McCormack, now Bishop
McCormack, who was the senior church official responsible
for handling sexual abuse complaints, said, "It is clear to
me that Paul Shanley is a sick person."
But Boston church officials did not tell California
officials about Father Shanley's problems until 1993, said
the Rev. Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the San Bernardino
Diocese, who said Father Shanley was promptly removed from
Father Shanley was also removed from active ministry by the
Boston Archdiocese, but he was allowed to go to Leo House
in New York. In December 1995, Sister Anne Karlin of Leo
House, got a call from one of Father Shanley's accusers,
and wrote to Cardinal Law asking if the molesting
accusations were true. According to a memo, the archdiocese
responded by convincing Sister Karlin that "Leo House is a
good placement for Father Shanley." The archdiocese
believed he was being supervised at Leo House and that
there was little opportunity to be with children.
"As I recall, there was a question as to whether or not
there were children there," said Msgr. Edward O'Donnell,
head of priest personnel in New York at the time. "And I
visited the place and made inquiries and was told that
children didn't live there and did not frequent that place.
So from that point of view, I probably did say there didn't
seem to be any danger. I didn't know what his background
was in any detail.
"I just knew he had a problem - I didn't know what it was."