January 17, 2005

Shanley case seen undercut by events

Boston Globe

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff | January 17, 2005

On a mild day in April 2002, a 24-year-old former altar boy walked past a pair of old-fashioned iron sconces and into Newton police headquarters, where he sat with a detective and told his story: that a Catholic priest, Paul R. Shanley, had forced sex on him repeatedly during the mid-1980s.

A horde of television crews and newspaper photographers recorded the accuser's trip into the police station, making it clear from the start that the prosecution of Shanley would be different than the typical sexual assault case. It was an early signal that the case would be a challenging one for authorities.

Though most alleged victims of sexual assault come forward quietly, the accuser and three other former altar boys from St. Jean the Evangelist Parish who made allegations against Shanley that spring were already very much in the public eye. For months, they had been at the center of a huge civil lawsuit a powerhouse Boston law firm brought against the Boston Archdiocese seeking compensation on behalf of hundreds of alleged sexual abuse victims.

That sequence -- the civil case first, and the criminal case afterward -- was unusual. And, according to legal specialists, it has been damaging to the prosecution.

The vast majority of alleged victims in sexual assault cases wait until after the criminal case is resolved before seeking damages in a civil lawsuit. Legal observers said the reverse order in the Shanley cases -- the accusers settled their civil cases last year -- has severely undermined the prosecution against Shanley, who is scheduled to go to trial tomorrow in Middlesex Superior Court in Cambridge.

Posted by kshaw at January 17, 2005 02:32 AM