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Church Blamed in Transfer of Priest

Religion: Boston officials knew of abuse charges but recommended prelate to Southland.

April 09, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — Although well aware of sexual abuse complaints against Father Paul Shanley, Catholic Church officials here failed to disclose his history when they approved his 1990 transfer to a Southern California parish, documents released Monday show.

On the contrary, a recommendation to the diocese of San Bernardino described Shanley as "a priest in good standing."

At an extraordinary 2 1/2-hour news conference, lawyers for a family that has filed a civil lawsuit against Shanley displayed material from his personnel file on a giant video screen. The papers showed that church officials have known of sexual misconduct charges against the priest since at least 1967. Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law also is named in the suit.

"They gave [Shanley] their seal of approval and shipped him out," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer representing 24-year-old Gregory Ford. Ford has alleged that Shanley abused him over several years, starting when he was 5 or 6.

"He was taking children on youth retreats in San Bernardino, and the archdiocese of Boston knew about it," MacLeish said.

In a statement that failed to mention Shanley, Boston archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said Monday that "whatever may have occurred in the past, there were no deliberate decisions to put children at risk."

Shanley, 71, now lives in San Diego. He was fired last week from his post as a police department volunteer and, MacLeish said, "many people are looking for him."

The allegations against Shanley, first reported in the Boston Globe, were the latest bombshell in a sexual abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church since early this year. Prosecutors here would not say Monday whether Shanley's name was on a list of more than 80 priests suspected of molesting children that Boston church officials provided after the January conviction of former priest John J. Geoghan. Geoghan, who has been accused of molesting more than 130 young people, is in prison for groping a boy at a community swimming pool.

Documents released in connection with Geoghan's prosecution showed that the archdiocese knew about the child-molestation allegations against him but did little more than transfer him from parish to parish. The Geoghan case has sparked child-sex allegations in parishes around the country and has led to the suspension or resignation of dozens of priests.

The Shanley documents displayed Monday revealed a similar pattern: Although church leaders knew about sexual abuse accusations, they continued to give the priest access to children in different parishes for 30 years.

Vatican officials also were told as early as 1979 about statements Shanley made on the topic of love between men and boys, the documents show.

"I believe that Father Shanley is a troubled priest and I have tried to be understanding and patient with him while continuously affirming both privately to him and publicly to my people the church's teaching on sexual ethics," then-Cardinal Humberto Medeiros wrote to Cardinal Franjo Speer at the Vatican.

Shanley voiced his opinions at a 1979 conference in Boston that served as the foundation for the North American Man Boy Love Assn., known as NAMBLA.

That same year, Medeiros reassigned Shanley to St. John the Evangelist Parish in Newton, Mass., just outside Boston.

During his three-year tenure at St. Anne's parish in San Bernardino, Shanley also operated an inn catering to gay customers in Palm Springs, the Globe reported. Shanley was officially on sick leave from the Boston archdiocese at that time and received his living expenses from the Boston chancery--not the San Bernardino diocese.

He later moved to New York, where he ran Leo House--a residential facility that, in correspondence with the archdiocese here, Shanley compared to the Ronald McDonald House for ill children.

A nun working in New York with Shanley wrote to Law in 1995 to express concerns about the priest's history and ongoing contact with minors.

"Here I am with this time bomb," Sister Anne Carlin wrote. Displaying the enlarged letter on his presentation screen, MacLeish said: "That was an understatement."

That same year, Law wrote Shanley expressing appreciation for his long service and wishing him good health.

In 1997, however, the Boston cardinal wrote to his New York counterpart, the late Cardinal John O'Connor, to acknowledge that "some controversy from [Shanley's] past has followed him to New York."

The landslide of information about Shanley was contained in 818 pages of documents delivered to MacLeish on Friday by lawyers for the archdiocese--two minutes before a court-ordered deadline was set to expire.

MacLeish and Robert Sherman are representing Ford and his family. Sherman said Monday that more than two dozen other people have brought complaints to them about Shanley.

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