January 23, 2005

Shanley trial underscores complexities of sex-abuse cases

BOSTON (MA)
The Christian Science Monitor

By Sara B. Miller | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

BOSTON Opening statements in the trial of Paul Shanley are set to begin Monday - advancing an epic in which a popular long-haired priest of the 1960s has become one of the biggest pariahs in today's clergy sexual-abuse scandal.

Defrocked by the Vatican last year, Mr. Shanley is one of few clergy accused of molestation to actually face prosecution. He is charged with child rape and indecent assault and battery while a priest at a nearby Newton parish in the 1980s. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Yet despite his notoriety among victims' advocates - child-abuse accusations date back to at least 1967 - a conviction is far from certain. Though four men originally accused him of molestation, prosecutors dropped two of them from the case in July, and a third was dropped last week after failing to appear for scheduled meetings. Now, the trial is based on the allegations of a lone accuser.

That could weaken the case against Shanley, say experts. It also underscores the challenges and complexities surrounding the prosecution of child abuse, especially when trials take place decades after the alleged crimes. At worst, say some, the way this case has played out - especially if Shanley is acquitted - could deter future victims from stepping forward.

Posted by kshaw at January 23, 2005 06:52 PM