February 09, 2005

Jury hints view shift regarding the clergy

Boston Globe

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff | February 9, 2005

Eleven years ago, the Rev. Paul Manning walked out of Middlesex Superior Court a free man, surrounded by cheering parishioners after a jury acquitted him of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy, even though the star witness against him was another priest.

On Monday, in that same court, another jury convicted defrocked priest Paul R. Shanley of raping a boy in the 1980s, marking what some legal practitioners say is a cultural sea change in the way juries weigh accusations of sexual abuse against clergy.

Monday's verdict, prosecutors say, shows that the clergy sexual-abuse scandal, which began unfolding in Boston this time three years ago, has eroded the deference once shown priests, and that the playing field for the accusers and the accused has become level.

"What has changed is that people understand that priests sometimes do these things," said Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, the prosecutor in the Manning case and whose office prosecuted Shanley.

Retired judge Robert A. Barton, who presided over Manning's trial in 1994, noted that there are key differences between the prosecutions of Manning and Shanley, principal among them is the fact that the alleged victim in the Manning case recanted his story and did not testify.

But Barton, who followed the Shanley trial through news accounts, said he was surprised at the guilty verdict, because there seemed to be little to corroborate the victim's allegations.

Posted by kshaw at February 9, 2005 07:26 AM