January 11, 2005

The jury should still be out on Paul Shanley



From the beginning of the Catholic abuse crisis in America, a handful of names have come to symbolize the awful narrative: Cardinal Bernard Law, who covered up; the elfin Fr. John Geoghan, with upward of 200 victims; Fr. Maurice Blackwell of Baltimore, whose apparent immunity drove his victim to shoot him in rage. Other stories included a priest who pleaded guilty to rape and another who lured youngsters to his bed -- even after he was committed to a secluded treatment facility nicknamed Pedophile Palace. Their cruel and twisted stories fill my book, Our Fathers, with a heavy pathos.

But in the popular pantheon of priestly criminality, one name stands out as especially atrocious -- Paul Shanley, graduate of the notoriously tainted Class of 1960 from St. Johnís Seminary in Boston, a man whose lengthy personnel files at the chancery bulged with thousands of complaints and admonitions. The Boston Globe called him ďa depraved priest who knew few limits to his sexual cravings.Ē The church settled many civil suits against him for perhaps several million dollars, and the Vatican laicized him summarily last year.

I never got a chance to interview Shanley for Newsweek, where I covered the crisis, or for my book. Indeed, Shanley has yet to explain himself publicly. But as I pored over the evidence against him, a strangely nuanced and sensitive portrait of the man began to emerge. Shanley was an early gay-rights activist in his church, making him a hero to many in the 1960s and í70s. He also, it turns out, routinely violated his celibacy vows with young men he met through counseling situations -- many of whom seriously regret the encounters. This was professional misconduct at its most base.

But is he a pedophile? Did he violate age-of-consent laws? Is Shanley a child molester? More than two years later, no jury has had a chance to draw a conclusion. The court settlements were done without a trial. Even his laicization was undertaken without a hearing, and more recently two of the most serious criminal charges against him have been thrown out before trial.

Posted by kshaw at January 11, 2005 03:31 PM