January 11, 2005

Finding empathy for Shanley



I was anxious as I boarded the plane to Boston to see Paul Shanley, a priest accused of pedophilia, made notorious by The Boston Globe and the national media. What would we talk about after all these years? I didn’t want to quiz him about the lurid stories I had read. I didn’t want to ask, “Paul, did you do these terrible things?” I was hoping he would sense that I just wanted to offer him the comfort of friendship.

I met Paul, who is scheduled for trial Jan. 24, in the early 1970s at a conference in Dayton, Ohio, about ministry to homosexual persons. Over the years, we would minister together in various ways. We marched to the Detroit chancery to protest the diocesan newspaper’s firing of Brian McNaught, a gay man and youth columnist. We demonstrated for gay and lesbian civil rights legislation in Wichita, Kan., at the height of Anita Bryant’s anti-homosexual campaign. We spoke at meetings for lesbian and gay Catholics, presented workshops to sensitize heterosexual Catholics about homosexuality, and prayed publicly that our society and church would acknowledge that lesbian and gay persons need make no apology for their sexual orientation.

I knew Paul to the extent that one knows most colleagues in ministry. I understood him as a person who shared my vision of justice for the oppressed. I experienced him as an iconoclast who publicly denounced social, medical or ecclesial institutions that kept the underdog continually underneath. I admired this man who reminded the establishment what it was established for -- service to individuals, not self-preservation. I was proud to be acquainted with him and call him a friend.

But for many months following the public revelations of his alleged abusive actions, I felt uneasy acknowledging I knew Paul, as if my association with him would imply I had little sympathy for victims of sexual abuse. Of course, I was appalled and horrified by the sexual violations against our young or not so young by persons in positions of trust. At the same time, my heart grieved for this man I had not seen in almost 20 years, but whose principles and whose advocacy for the downtrodden I had applauded for three decades.

Posted by kshaw at January 11, 2005 03:33 PM