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February 07, 2005

Jury finds defrocked priest guilty of repeatedly molesting parishioner

February 7, 2005 [Associated Press]
By Denise Lavoie

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The witness broke down as he told the jury how Father Paul Shanley pulled him out of catechism class and raped him repeatedly, starting when he was 6. "He told me nobody would ever believe me if I told anybody," he said.

On Monday, a jury believed him.

Shanley was convicted of raping and fondling him over a six-year period in the 1980s. The 74-year-old defrocked priest could get life in prison at sentencing Feb. 15. His bail was revoked and he was immediately led off to jail.

Shanley was the most notorious figure in the sex scandal that rocked the Boston Archdiocese, and his conviction on all four charges gives prosecutors an important victory in their effort to bring pedophile priests to justice for decades of abuse at parishes around the country.

His accuser, now a 27-year-old firefighter from suburban Boston, put his head down and sobbed as the verdicts were announced after a trial that turned on the reliability of what he claimed were recently recovered memories of the long-ago abuse. Shanley showed no emotion.

Frank Mondano, Shanley's lawyer, said he will appeal. "It appears that the absence of a case is not an impediment to securing a conviction," he said.

The accuser was one of at least two dozen men who claimed they had been molested by Shanley, who was a parish priest in Newton, a suburb about 10 miles west of Boston. The archdiocese's own personnel records showed that church officials knew Shanley publicly advocated sex between men and boys, yet continued to transfer him from parish to parish.

During the trial, the accuser testified in graphic detail that Shanley raped and groped him in the church bathroom, the rectory, the confessional and the pews.

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

But the jury believed that memories can be repressed, one juror said.

"We agreed after discussion that you can experience something up to a point, and then not think about it and have plenty of other things in your life that are more important," Victoria Blier said.

Prosecutors said the accuser had no financial motivation in accusing Shanley of rape 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 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 closing arguments.

Blier said both the settlement and the emotion were key.

"I think that people believed that the core of what the victim claimed was true, and I think a pervasive sentiment was he had already gotten a half-million dollar settlement," she said. "He knew that pursuing the criminal case was going to lay a painful life bare."

After Shanley was led out of the courtroom, his niece, Teresa Shanley, said: "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."

Rodney Ford, whose son Greg was one of 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.

In a statement, the archdiocese said: "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."

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

Shanley is one of the few priests prosecutors have been able to bring charges against. 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 left the state, effectively 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 the Newton parish. All four claimed they repressed memories of the abuse, then recovered them when the scandal broke.

But the case ran into numerous problems. 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.

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 priest had molested children. That priest, John Geoghan, was convicted of assault and was later killed in prison.

The scandal intensified later in 2002 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.

Ultimately the state attorney general's office concluded that about 1,000 children in the Boston Archdiocese had been molested by more than 240 priests since the 1940s

Posted by Nancy at February 7, 2005 11:18 PM

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