Renegade priest faces rape charges in Boston

Saturday, May 4, 2002

BOSTON -- For decades, the Rev. Paul Shanley had been a renegade -- he was quoted as publicly advocating sex between men and boys and spoke against the church's treatment of gays.

Even so, the archdiocese did not remove him as a priest -- instead transferring him to several parishes, despite allegations of sexual abuse. Now, he's behind bars, facing criminal charges he repeatedly raped a boy.

Shanley, 71, who has lived mostly in California for the past decade, is headed back to Massachusetts to face the criminal charges.

Interviews and court documents portray Shanley as a popular priest who drew crowds and controversy, but who also allegedly preyed on little boys, pulling them out of catechism classes to play games that ended in their abuse, if they lost.

Civil lawsuits filed by the alleged victims against the archdiocese for failing to protect them go back as far as 1967.

Ordained as a Catholic priest in 1960, Shanley was assigned to various Boston Archdiocese parishes during the 1960s. In the decade that followed, Shanley became known as a "street priest." Wearing jeans and long hair, he ministered to homosexuals, drug addicts and runaways.

In comments he made to a Massachusetts newspaper in 1974, Shanley described the church's sexual morality as in "shambles," and said most homosexuals were also heterosexual.

"This should be good news to straights as well as gays," he said in the interview. "It means a man who sits all day watching football and 'Gunsmoke' does not then have to go beat up a queer for Christ."

While some wrote the archdiocese to warn that his speeches before groups and on college campuses were dangerous, others exalted his work on behalf of underprivileged, according to some of the 1,600 pages of documents released by the archdiocese in response to a lawsuit involving Shanley.

"Those of us who attended Paul's session seemed to sense that here was a priest really doing something to help people -- an unpopular cause, even at personal sacrifice ... like Jesus did in his day," the Rev. John Mitchell, a pastor in Wichita Falls, Texas, wrote then-Cardinal Humberto Medeiros in 1981.

Darker aspects of Shanley's life were less widely publicized.

In a 1972 mailing, Shanley wrote expensively on how he helped young people get treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, then describing his own frequent visits to health clinics.

He also described the tough moral choices he faced in helping runaways: "Much of my life these last few years has been choosing not twixt good and evil but the lesser of two evils. My God, I've even taught kids how to shoot up properly!"

The manager of the San Diego apartment building where Shanley lived said he was always willing to help people and frequently checked on a next-door neighbor, bringing her soup when she felt ill.

People who say they were victimized by Shanley hailed his arrest Thursday.

"Sleep tonight, the man who molested you is behind bars," Paula Ford, mother of alleged victim Gregory Ford, said in a message to other alleged victims. "Because of your courage to come forward ... this will not happen to another child at the hands of Paul Shanley."

Shanley agreed Friday to return to Massachusetts to face the charges he repeatedly raped a boy -- sometimes in a church confessional -- between 1983 and 1989.

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