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Riverside County Won't Prosecute Priest

Prosecutor says Massachusetts has a much stronger case in pursuing charges against the Rev. Paul Shanley.

June 04, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

The Riverside County district attorney's office has decided not to prosecute a veteran priest accused of sexually abusing a 17-year-old boy at a Palm Springs bed-and-breakfast in 1990.

Dist. Atty. Grover Trask said several factors influenced the decision not to pursue a charge of statutory rape against the Rev. Paul Shanley, 72.

Shanley, based at St. Anne Catholic Church in San Bernardino from 1990-93, is a central figure in the ongoing national Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino sued the Archdiocese of Boston in April, charging that Boston officials hid allegations of molestations by Shanley when he was transferred to California in 1990. Additionally, Kevin English, 30, has sued Shanley and the Diocese of San Bernardino because he said Shanley sexually abused him as a 17-year-old in Palm Springs and Big Bear Lake.

Trask said "a combination of evidentiary problems" included a lack of proof that Shanley knew English was a minor when he allegedly engaged in the sexual acts. Also, to receive an extension of the statute of limitations on the allegations, prosecutors needed to have the corroboration of evidence that could be supplied only by the alleged victims of Shanley in Massachusetts.

"We have no idea if they'd be cooperative in coming here to testify," Trask said.

Ultimately, Trask said, the prosecutor assigned to the case, Indio-based Assistant Dist. Atty. Sue Steding, was content to let Shanley face prosecution in Massachusetts, where he is free on bail after pleading not guilty to 10 charges of child rape. Shanley could receive a life sentence if convicted.

"In Massachusetts, there are more victims, the prosecutors have a much stronger case, and the punishment of life in prison is possible," Trask said. "That compares much more favorably with what we could do."

The Riverside County decision follows the lead of the San Bernardino County district attorney's office, which opted last month not to charge Shanley for his alleged involvement in the alleged abuse at Big Bear Lake.

The diocese lawsuit, filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court, is believed to mark the first time one U.S. Catholic diocese has sued another, according to both dioceses. As such, it is further indication of how the sex-abuse scandal has moved through the Catholic Church, overturning long-established customs.

A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington called the suit a historic "rarity."

The suit accuses Catholic officials in Boston of "misrepresentations and suppression of information" as well as "active misconduct and negligence" in hiding the background of Shanley, who has been accused of molestation dating to 1967.

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