Credible witness

Boston Globe
February 9, 2005

THE CASE against Paul R. Shanley came down to the word of one person, a man who was forced to relive horrific childhood memories in front of strangers in a Middlesex Superior courtroom. That 12 of them, empaneled as a jury, found Shanley guilty of child rape is a tribute to the witness's courage and credibility.

The Globe first reported in 2002 that complaints of sexual abuse against Shanley go back to the 1960s, but most were beyond the statute of limitations. Up until the 1990s few people were willing to face the calumny that would come to them if they accused a Catholic priest of this crime.

The Globe articles and other reports of abuse removed the veil of silence. And four people came forward to accuse Shanley of molesting them when he was the pastor of St. Jean Church in Newton. Abuse victims are often troubled themselves, either by the abuse or by other problems in their childhood. They often do not make credible witnesses, and Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley decided to pursue only one case.

The man who agreed to testify -- unnamed because of Globe policy -- was already assured of a $500,000 settlement from the Archdiocese of Boston in a civil case. Despite assertions by the defense lawyer, Frank Mondano, he was clearly not testifying for financial gain. Mondano put him through a scathing, 14-hour cross-examination, but his ordeal increased his credibility before the jury.

Shanley declined to testify, as was his right, but that meant that the prosecution was not able to enter into the record any of the potentially damaging information in the files of the Boston Archdiocese -- for instance, reports from witnesses accusing him of advocating man-boy love.

Shanley was not the most egregious example of the failure of the archdiocese to protect young people from predatory priests -- that distinction probably belongs to the late John Geoghan -- but because Shanley was well known in the 1970s for his ministry to street people, including gays, his case gained unusual notoriety.

The 12 jurors heard nothing of this in court. Shanley came before them as a distinguished-looking elderly man without a past except as pastor of St. Jean. One witness assumed the burden of speaking for all of Shanley's acccusers who did not come forward.

Mondano said after the verdict that he would appeal, although as of yesterday he had not decided on the grounds. Whatever happens in future legal proceedings, Shanley's accuser will have the satisfaction of knowing that he had the strength of character to come forward and convince 12 people that Paul Shanley corrupted his boyhood.


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