CAMBRIDGE -- He is thickly built and tough looking, a firefighter who prefers football to baseball and described Air Force boot camp as ''awesome." But when a prosecutor's queries summoned memories from Sunday school in the early 1980s, he began to cry.
Who was it, the prosecutor asked the alleged abuse victim, that used to meet him in the boys room of St. Jean's Church in Newton? Twice the man pointed, without speaking, at the balding man at the defense table in Middlesex Superior Court. Finally, he stammered, ''Shanley."
In the second day of testimony in Paul R. Shanley's child-rape trial yesterday, the defrocked priest's 27-year-old accuser took the witness stand and gave graphic accounts of the alleged abuse in a halting voice, often covering his face with his hands.
He described what he said were clandestine meetings with the priest on scattered Sunday mornings: in the bathroom, the church rectory, the pews, and the confessional. He said Shanley touched him, watched him urinate, and occasionally performed oral sex on him to ''teach me" how to do it.
But in a combative cross-examination yesterday afternoon, Shanley's lawyer, Frank Mondano, challenged the man's credibility, pointing out lapses in his memory and discrepancies between yesterday's testimony and a deposition he gave in April 2002 in a civil suit against the Boston Archdiocese.
Shanley's defense will hinge largely on the assertion that the alleged victim's memories, which he contends had been repressed for years, are not reliable. Mondano has also said that the charges against Shanley, 74, are motivated by money. The accuser settled his civil suit out of court for $500,000.
Three other accusers were dropped from this week's trial, and the statute of limitations bars bringing criminal charges against Shanley based on allegations of other men. So the case against one of the most flamboyant and controversial figures in Boston's clergy sexual abuse scandal hinges on this single accuser, a man with a jutting jaw and buzzcut, who cracked jokes and looked relaxed on the witness stand until the questions turned to the alleged abuse.
The Globe does not name victims of sexual abuse without their consent.
The man, a former altar boy at St. Jean's, testified yesterday that he did not remember the abuse until January 2001, when he was an Air Force security officer stationed at a base in Colorado. His fiancee called and told him about a Globe story outlining accusations against Shanley.
''I said I remembered him," the man said. ''That's weird. Everybody liked him."
A few weeks later, when his fiancee told him that a Sunday school classmate had alleged abuse by Shanley, the man said he began to recover his memories.
He said he spent many hours with a military psychiatrist and developed a bright red, painful ''stress rash" on his legs and body.
He offered graphic details of his meetings with Shanley, who he said molested him between ages 6 to 11, the worst of it happening while he was youngest. Sometimes, the accuser said, they would play the card game War in the rectory, but with a twist: The loser of a hand would have to remove an article of clothing.
Though he broke down frequently in the morning, the alleged victim had a strikingly different demeanor during Mondano's cross-examination, peppering his testimony with wisecracks and angry retorts.
But Mondano kept hammering, pointing out times when the man admitted his memory was spotty: He had trouble recalling the timing of telephone conversations, the people he spoke to in relation to the case, and events that transpired before he made a deposition in the civil case.
''My life was falling apart; I don't remember exactly when things happened," the accuser said at one point.
Mondano also referred to the man's strained relationship with his parents and challenged an assertion he had made in the civil suit that his relationship with Shanley had caused him to have trouble with authority.
When Mondano said fire departments have a hierarchical structure that seemed to suit the witness well, the witness shot back: ''Are you a firefighter? You don't know that, do you?"
Shanley faces three charges of raping a child and two charges of indecent assault and battery on a child. He could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty.
The alleged victim is expected to continue his testimony today. His wife is also expected to testify.
Earlier yesterday, Ann Marie Rousseau, a former Sunday school teacher at St. Jean's, testified under questioning by Mondano that the upstairs of the church was often filled with people during Sunday school hours. She also acknowledged saying in the past that Shanley never called students out of her class and that she never saw him alone with a child.
On Tuesday, Kathleen Bennett, a former substitute school teacher at St. Jean's, testified that Shanley never pulled students out of class.