Jury finds defrocked priest guilty

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Press, carried in the Cambridge Daily News Transcript
February 8, 2005

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Defrocked priest Paul Shanley, the most notorious figure in the clergy sex abuse scandal that rocked the Boston Archdiocese, was convicted Monday of repeatedly molesting a boy at his church during the 1980s.

The conviction on all four charges gives prosecutors a high-profile victory in their effort to bring pedophile priests to justice for decades of abuse at Roman Catholic parishes around the country.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 13 hours over five days before reaching the verdict in a trial that turned on the reliability of the accuser's recovered memories of long-ago abuse.

The victim, now 27, put his head down and sobbed as the verdicts were announced.

Shanley showed no emotion as he stood with his attorney, Frank Mondano.

"It appears that the absence of a case is not an impediment to securing a conviction," said Mondano, who vowed to appeal.

Shanley, 74, faces up to life in prison for two counts each of child rape and indecent assault and battery on a child. He is to be sentenced Feb. 15. Judge Stephen Neel immediately revoked Shanley's $300,000 bail.

After Shanley was led away from the courtroom, his niece, Teresa Shanley, told reporters: "There are no winners today. There are only losers. We're no closer to finding out the truth about this scandal or finding out what happened."

The archdiocese released a statement following the verdict saying that the trial showed the intensity of suffering by abuse victims.

"It is important for the Archdiocese of Boston, in this moment, to again apologize for the crimes and harm perpetrated against children by priests who held the trust and esteem of families and the community," the statement said.

During the trial, the accuser broke down on the stand as he testified in graphic detail that Shanley pulled him out of Sunday morning catechism classes and raped and groped him in the church bathroom, the rectory, the confessional and the pews, starting when he was 6.

"It felt awful," he testified. "He told me nobody would ever believe me if I told anybody."

The man, now a firefighter in suburban Boston, said he repressed his memories of the abuse but they came flooding back three years ago, triggered by news coverage of the scandal that began in Boston and soon engulfed the church worldwide.

The defense called just one witness -- a psychologist who said recovered memories can be false, even if the accuser ardently believes they are true. Shanley's lawyer argued that the man who accused Shanley concocted the story with the help of personal injury lawyers to cash in on the multimillion-dollar settlements resulting from the sex scandal.

Prosecutors said the accuser had no financial stake in testifying in the criminal case because he received his $500,000 settlement with the archdiocese nearly a year ago. They also cited his three days on the stand, during which he sobbed and begged the judge not to force him to continue testifying.

"The emotions were raw. They were real," prosecutor Lynn Rooney said in her closing argument.

The archdiocese's own personnel records showed that church officials knew Shanley publicly advocated sex between men and boys, yet they allowed him to continue his parish work.

Once a long-haired, jeans-wearing "street priest" who worked with Boston's troubled youth, Shanley sat stoically for most of the trial, listening to his accuser's testimony with the help of a hearing aid.

He is one of the few priests prosecutors have been able bring charges against. Most of the priests accused in lawsuits avoided prosecution because the alleged crimes were committed so long ago that the statute of limitations had run out. But Shanley moved out of state, stopping the clock.

He was arrested in California at the height of the scandal in May 2002, and brought back to Massachusetts in handcuffs -- charged with raping four boys from his Newton parish. All four claimed they repressed memories of the abuse.

In July, prosecutors dropped two of the accusers in what they said was a move to strengthen their case. Then, on the day jury selection began, they dropped a third accuser because they were unable to find him after a traumatic experience on the witness stand at a pretrial hearing last fall.

Rodney Ford, whose son Greg was one of the three accusers dropped from the case, called the verdict "a relief for my son, and all the other victims."

"The validation that all the victims of Paul Shanley must feel today must be unbelievable," Ford said.

The verdict also brought relief to victim advocates.

"This shows that when survivors find the strength to speak up, sometimes, sometimes, kids are protected, and justice can happen," said David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abuse by Priests. "When survivors stay silent, nothing changes."

Shanley's friend, Paul Shannon, 57, said media coverage made it impossible for the jury to look at the case objectively.

"How a jury in any objective sense based on that evidence could convict a person of those charges is beyond me," said Shannon.

The clergy abuse scandal in Boston began in early 2002 when Cardinal Bernard Law acknowledged he shuffled a pedophile priest from parish to parish despite evidence the priest had molested children. That priest, John Geoghan, was convicted of assault and later killed in prison.

The scandal intensified when the church released Shanley's 800-page personnel file. Despite church teachings, he argued that homosexuality was OK, and pushed for gay rights. He called himself a "sexual expert" and advertised his counseling services in the alternative press.

He resigned from parish work in 1989 and moved to California. At the time, Law, who resigned as archbishop in December 2002 at the height of the scandal, praised his "impressive record."

Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said prosecutors knew that it would be a tough case from the bginning because of the victims' repressed memories, Shanley's revered stature at the time of the abuse, and the amount of time that had elapsed.

Coakley praised the victim's courage and his perseverence in helping convince the jury of Shanley's guilt, saying he was driven by the sense that, 'if I don't do it, nobody will,"' she said.

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