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Retired Priest Pleads Not Guilty to Abuse

Courts: Paul Shanley, who is central to the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, pleads not guilty.

July 11, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Retired priest Paul Shanley, a key figure in the sexual abuse scandal that has swept the Roman Catholic Church, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to 16 counts of child rape and assault.

Ignoring the stares of some of his alleged victims' relatives, Shanley declared himself "not guilty" of charges that he molested four boys ages 6 to 15 from 1979 to 1989. The incidents allegedly occurred in a church and rectory in suburban Newton.

The 71-year-old Shanley, once a celebrated "street priest" who ministered to marginalized populations, was arrested May 2 in San Diego and extradited to Massachusetts.

He is being held on $300,000 bail. A tentative trial date was set for Nov. 5.

Graphic descriptions of the disgraced priest's alleged assaults, as well as reports of his advocacy of "man-boy love," vaulted Shanley to the center of the clerical abuse scandal that arose in January.

Nearly 250 priests have been removed from their positions or have resigned since then, following accusations of child molestation that in some cases date back 40 years. Four bishops also have stepped down as top-ranking church officials have come under fire for failing to take action against pedophile priests.

In court Wednesday, the parents of Gregory Ford, one of Shanley's alleged victims, faced off with their former parish priest for the first time since their son reported his accusations to them. He claims he was 6 when Shanley began abusing him, and that he suffered through a troubled adolescence that included at least one suicide attempt.

"How would any father feel, looking at the man that sent your family to hell?" asked Rodney Ford, a campus policeman at a Boston college.

Gregory Ford, 24, is one of the four alleged victims in the criminal case against Shanley. He is also a plaintiff in a civil suit against the archdiocese. He was not in court Wednesday.

But Arthur Austin, a 54-year-old artist who claims he was sexually abused by Shanley for six years beginning in 1968, said he felt compelled to be in court to see Shanley for the first time in decades.

"It is all still there," Austin said. "All the arrogance is still there. All the power. All the certainty. I know that kind of centered, calm look."

Austin was the first of Shanley's alleged victims in Boston to go public with accusations, claiming that he went to Shanley for counseling and was sexually assaulted instead. The statute of limitations barred him from bringing charges.

Austin said he welcomed judicial intervention.

"I'm living in a world where I can walk into a courtroom and see the wheels of justice turning, which is more than I could have done a year ago," he said.

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