Shanley Couldn't Outrun Past
Repeated attempts to start over failed

By Tatsha Robertson
Boston Globe
April 19, 2002

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -For the dozen years since he left Boston, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley has bounced from coast to coast, trying to build a new life for himself in at least four different cities in California and New York. But a dark past as an alleged child molester has kept catching up with the onetime ''street priest'' affiliated with the Archdiocese of Boston.

Shanley's first stop in his flight from the abuse accusations was in Southern California, where for several years in early 1990s the troubled priest led an amazing double life. He spent most of his time in Palm Springs with another Boston priest in exile, running a hedonistic inn catering to gay men. Every other weekend, he drove 50 miles to San Bernardino to say Mass at a Catholic church where parishioners were unaware of his other life.

When that fell apart, Shanley repaired to New York City, trying to refashion himself as a manager of a Catholic hostel, with the support of Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

Once again, word of Shanley's past was not too far behind. In the late 1990s, he packed his bags for San Diego, living in relative obscurity at a fashionable apartment building for seniors until the scandal surrounding his Boston years roared into the public eye this month. Shanley, now 71, has relocated to parts unknown but apparently has been in touch with his lawyers.

Shanley's time as a priest in the Boston area starting in the 1960s and ending with his departure in 1990 has come back to haunt Law too. Coming on the heels of the details of the cardinal's handling of the Rev. John J. Geoghan, the release last week of more than 800 pages of internal church documents provided a second example of a priest Law shifted from parish to unwitting parish, despite the cardinal's knowledge of allegations that Shanley had sexually abused minors.

Law's standing with the area's Catholics appears to have been damaged, with a recent poll finding that a majority wants him to resign. The Shanley case also has played a role in prompting the Vatican to call a meeting for next week of 13 cardinals from the United States, and it was central in a secret meeting between Law and Pope John Paul II.

There was a time when the now reclusive priest embraced the spotlight. He was nationally known in the 1960s and 1970s for ministering to troubled youth and those unsure of their sexuality. But church officials learned he also preyed on children and publicly endorsed pedophilia.

By 1990, the Boston archdiocese placed Shanley on medical leave and transferred him to warm, dry California to relieve his allergies, according to church memorandums. The personal baggage he took with him was heavy, though. A year earlier, church officials had settled a lawsuit that accused Shanley of sexual abuse. His accusers attempted to find Shanley after his departure.

In California, few people he met knew his full story. Some caught snippets of the truth along the way, but most of his acquaintances were totally unaware. Kevin Rice, who owned a hotel catering to gays in Palm Springs, said most people there had no idea that Shanley was a priest.

''He's not the kind of priest I knew growing up in Chicago. He sure didn't walk around with his collar,'' Rice said.

In a way, the small, popular and yet discreet resort area of Palm Springs known as Warm Sands was the right place for a man who didn't want to be noticed. Located on the edge of the San Jacinto mountains and filled with palm trees, Warm Sands was once a lazy playground for seniors and families, but in the 1980s it became a summer hideaway for gay men who wanted to enjoy a vacation without being hassled by straight vacationers.

Jack Prey, who has lived in Palm Springs for 15 years and owns a real estate company with his partner, said Shanley by no means was the only priest hanging out in Warm Sands. There are the two priests who met at a seminary, fell in love, and bought a local condo. Other priests have brought homes together, vacationed, and secretly retired there.

Shanley kept the Boston archdiocese in the dark about his exact whereabouts. He told the archdiocese he was staying at least for awhile at St. Ann Catholic Church in San Bernardino, but church officials there recently said that if he stayed at St. Ann's at all, it was only a couple of times.

For several years, archdiocese officials were confused about where to send Shanley's checks. Subsequently, he told the diocese that he had found a room in Palm Springs. He used as his address the Cabana Club, a four-unit inn in Warm Sands that he and the Rev. John White, another priest on sick leave from the Boston archdiocese, purchased together.

White bought a larger inn called Whispering Palms in 1990. The two men purchased the Cabana Club, located around the corner, as an overflow hotel.

Warm Sands has a reputation for being elegant and clean, but the 18 or so inns in the resort radiate secrecy. Doors are locked, not just for security reasons, but also because male guests may have the option to walk and lie around the swimming pool nude.

''Some of the inns are sexually geared,'' said Rice, who recently sold the inn he co-owned with his partner. ''Ours was more for couples.''

Rice said the hotels that White and Shanley operated were ''definitely'' sexually charged. The two priests not only encouraged nudity at the inn, Rice said, but they also encouraged open sex around the pool.

To those who knew the two, White appeared to be the troubled one, and Shanley seemed the quiet, stable force who picked up White's broken pieces. White surrounded himself with young men.

Others recall White hanging out at the tiny Greyhound bus station, where he tried to pick up Marines. Rice recalled both men going to the station looking for young men to work at their hotel.

Meanwhile, Shanley kept busy with his other, priestly life. He'd drive to San Bernardino and say Mass as a fill-in priest at St. Ann, a modest white church located on a busy urban street, directly across from an elementary school.

''I really can't believe that someone would live such a double life,'' said the Rev. Lawrence Grajek, who was St. Ann's pastor then but has since departed. ''He was sanctimonious on the one end, and on the other extreme, he was on the deep end. There is a complete contradiction. I feel almost betrayed.''

The Rev. Gerald Leonard, the current pastor, said the Boston archdiocese was late in informing the church about Shanley. Leonard added, however, that there was no evidence Shanley had done anything improper at St. Ann.

Parishioners considered Shanley to be gentle and kind, said Leonard. He kept his distance, though, never getting too close.

By 1993, Shanley's double life had started to fall apart. He had to cut his ties to St. Ann after Boston church officials finally disclosed his past. That year he underwent treatment and admitted to molesting several boys, according to documents.

Two years later, his Palm Springs-San Bernardino stretch came to an end. His accusers were tracking him down. His physical aches and pains were worsening. His superiors in Boston prohibited him from staying in a rectory or saying Mass. He flew to Boston for psychological evaluations and told a psychologist that he feared living alone because he might die alone like his younger brother did. Shanley began talking about leaving the country; his letters, once neatly typed, turned to handwritten scribble.

But he pulled himself together and moved to New York City at the request of his friend, Frank Pilecki, who was running a Catholic hostel in the Chelsea neighborhood of lower Manhattan.

Shanley was highly regarded by the order of nuns at Leo House, a neat hostel whose lobby has an Old World feel. Last week, a string of transients, middle-class families, and travelers went in and out. Staff members would not talk about their former co-worker.

During the mid-1990s, Shanley was in his element at Leo House. Although he worked as a layman, the nuns still viewed him as a priest. He ran staff meetings, attended board meetings, and supervised the hotel's 33 employees.

In a telephone interview, Sister Anne Karlin described him as very orderly, someone who finished every project he started. Cardinal Law recommended him for the top job at the hostel. But then the accusatory telephone calls began to pour in. Sister Karlin and the other nuns were so distraught after receiving a call in December 1995 from a male accuser that Karlin wrote a letter to Law.

''Here I am with a time bomb,'' Karlin wrote.

Karlin said during the interview that she talked to Shanley, who denied the allegations, but said they had long plagued him.

Letters were flying back and forth between church officials in Boston and New York. Calls about Shanley were mounting. Shanley was fighting to become the hostel's director, but church officials in both cities worried his accusers would carry out their threat to go public.

''My days here are numbered. Shortly I will be without a job or a place to live,'' he wrote.

That year, 1997, he and White sold the Cabana Club for $185,000. White had already sold The Whispering Palms for $389,000.

Shanley eventually moved back to California, sharing a two-bedroom apartment in San Diego with longtime companion Dale LeGrace.

Neighbors in San Diego, who described Shanley as ''priestly'' and an opera lover, haven't seen him since earlier this month when local police officials fired him from a volunteer job after learning of the abuse allegations.

Wherever he is, Shanley has indicated he wants no part of the place where he started his bicoastal journey. A Boston archdiocese report written less than a year ago notes that he has a brother, a niece, and a few in-laws in the Boston area. But he has requested, according to the report, that his funeral be simple and that his burial be in San Diego.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/19/2002.


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