Shanley conviction isn't end to clergy sex abuse crisis

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Press, carried in the Worcester (MA) Telegram
February 8, 2005

BOSTON— The conviction of defrocked priest Paul Shanley was both a real and symbolic victory for victims of clergy sexual abuse. But the guilty verdict will not bring a quick end to the three-year scandal that has fractured the Roman Catholic church in Boston and across the country.

Although there is only one known criminal case pending against a priest within the Boston Archdiocese, there are more than 100 civil lawsuits accusing priests of sexually abusing children. And the pain felt across generations of children molested by their parish priest remains ever-present.

"Shanley's conviction was certainly a very important milestone in the ongoing battle. It has tremendous importance for all of us, but I know that there are still new victims coming forward," said Phil Saviano, who founded the New England chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"I firmly believe there are victims from the '90s who we have not yet heard from. There were still a number of priests then who felt they had free reign and could act without consequences."

Boston attorney Carmen Durso, who settled 40 lawsuits against the archdiocese in 2003, said he has filed another 25 lawsuits since then, naming 18 different priests. The Shanley trial, he said, has brought even more phone calls to his office from people who say they were molested by priests.

The scandal erupted in Boston in 2002 after church files released publicly showed a decades-long history of a church hierarchy that regularly received complaints about priests who were molesting children. Instead of removing the accused priests, church officials moved them from parish to parish.

In September 2003, the archdiocese agreed to settle more than 550 civil lawsuits for $85 million. The crisis led to the resignation of former Cardinal Bernard Law, and the appointment of Archbishop Sean O'Malley - who had received accolades for his handling of the aftermath of a smaller-scale sex abuse scandal when he headed the Fall River Diocese.

An investigation by the state attorney general eventually concluded that about 1,000 children within the Boston Archdiocese were molested by more than 240 priests since the 1940s.

The crisis that unfolded in Boston spread across the country, leading to thousands of lawsuits being filed against other dioceses that accused priests of abusing children.

"It's incredible just how pervasive this is around the country," said Durso. "By letting Boston get to the dimensions that it did, the church ensured that this thing would be like wildfire going across the country."

"Instead of fighting, if from the very beginning they said, 'We made terrible mistakes, we're going to correct it now,' things might have been different," Durso said. "But once it got as bad as it did, it really emboldened people in other cities. Victims in other places said, 'We can do something, too.'"

These days, the epicenter has shifted and California has become ground zero for clergy abuse complaints.

More than 800 civil cases are pending against Roman Catholic dioceses in California, about 500 of those against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. District attorneys around the state also have filed a number of criminal cases against priests or former priests.

In December, a record $100 million settlement between alleged victims and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County, resolving 90 lawsuits with allegations that spanned six decades - from 1936 to 1996.

David Clohessy, the national director for SNAP, said the crisis is bound to continue for years to come.

"The vast majority of dioceses in America - especially those outside of the four or five big metropolitan areas - are light years behind Boston in terms of disclosures, lawsuits, prosecutions and even the removal of abusive priests," Clohessy said.

Shanley, now 74, was one of the most notorious priests in the scandal. He was convicted Monday of repeatedly raping and fondling a boy at a parish outside Boston in the 1980s. He was one of fewer than a dozen priests who prosecutors have been able to charge criminally in the Boston area.

Most priests accused of wrongdoing escaped prosecution because the statute of limitations ran out long ago. But shortly after leaving the Newton parish in 1989, Shanley moved out of state, effectively stopping the clock.

Another central figure in the sex abuse scandal, defrocked priest John Geoghan, was convicted for groping a 10-year-old boy. Geoghan was beaten and strangled in prison in 2003, allegedly by a fellow inmate.

The Rev. Paul Hurley is currently facing trial after being charged in August 2002 with repeatedly paying a teenage boy for sex inside the rectory of a Cambridge church in 1987 and 1988. Hurley, who is charged with two counts of child rape, has pleaded innocent.

Paul Baier, co-director of, a Massachusetts non-profit corporation whose Web site documents the clergy sex abuse crisis, said Shanley's conviction may make it more comfortable for victims to come forward.

"They just want to be validated and to have someone believe them," Baier said. "To actually have a priest convicted and have that widely reported provides victims with a modicum of hope that they will be believed and there will be a chance for justice."


Editors' Note: Denise Lavoie is a Boston-based reporter covering the courts and legal issues. She can be reached at dlavoie(at)


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