Prosecutors in fight to convict key figure in clergy sex abuse scandal
By Associated Press
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

 

BOSTON - At the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal, Paul Shanley was brought back to Massachusetts in handcuffs, accused of raping four boys while he was a priest at a suburban church in the 1980s.

 

      The former "street priest,'' known for his long hair and ministry to troubled youth, became the poster boy for abusive priests as dozens of people filed civil lawsuits saying Shanley had also molested them.

 

      But as Shanley's criminal trial winds down this week, there is only one accuser left, and prosecutors are fighting to convince a jury the man's repressed memories are real.

 

      "It all hinges on the credibility of this one victim,'' said Michael Cassidy, an associate professor at Boston College Law School.

 

      The trial is one of a handful of criminal cases that prosecutors have been able to bring against priests accused of molesting young parishioners decades ago.

 

      Most of the priests accused in lawsuits avoided criminal prosecution because the alleged crimes were committed long ago, so charges were barred by the statute of limitations. But Shanley moved away from Massachusetts, stopping the clock and allowing authorities to arrest him in California in May 2002.

 

      Archdiocese personnel records showed that church officials knew Shanley advocated sex between men and boys, yet continued to transfer him from parish to parish. He was defrocked by the Vatican last year.

 

      The case started out with four accusers who made nearly identical claims of abuse.

 

      They all said Shanley molested them between 1979 and 1989 at St. Jean's parish in Newton, telling similar stories of being taken from religious classes under the ruse of being "disciplined.''

 

      But all four men also said they'd repressed memories of the abuse and recovered them only after the clergy sex abuse scandal broke in Boston in January 2002.

 

      In July, prosecutors dropped charges related to two alleged victims. Then, on the day jury selection began, they dropped charges related to a third victim, leaving only one man to testify against Shanley.

 

      Shanley, who turned 74 on the first day of his trial, no longer resembles the youthful, charismatic priest described by some of his alleged victims. He sat stoically last week, listening to his accuser's testimony with the help of a hearing aid.

 

      The man, now 27, told the jury that Shanley began molesting him when he was 6 years old. Shanley would take him from Sunday school classes at St. Jean's and rape him in the church bathroom, rectory and confessional, the man said.

 

      He spent more than 10 hours over three days on the witness stand, enduring sometimes-graphic questioning by Shanley's lawyer, Frank Mondano. He broke down and sobbed when Mondano grilled him about the alleged rapes, prompting Judge Stephen Neel to call a recess.

 

      The man later begged the judge not to force him to return for more questioning, but he showed up the next day and finished his testimony, with sometimes flippant retorts to Mondano's questions.

 

      When it was over, the man had laid out a chilling story of abuse for the jury.

 

      But his testimony also resulted in the dismissal of one of the three rape charges against Shanley.

 

      The victim testified that Shanley fondled him, raped him and performed oral sex on him, but did not say he was forced to perform oral sex on Shanley. Prosecutor Lynn Rooney asked several times if there was any other type of "touching,'' but he said he could not recall anything else.

 

      After the prosecution rested its case on Monday, the judge dismissed that charge.

 

      Some legal observers said Mondano's aggressive cross-examination of the victim is bound to backfire.

 

      "When Mondano started talking about how the victim's mother was a drunk, his father used to beat him, he had a horrible childhood and nobody loved him, not only did that give the jury instant sympathy toward the victim, it came across as completely gratuitous,'' said Wendy Murphy, a former state prosecutor who now teaches at the New England School of Law.

 

      "It's very likely that if a jury feels bad for this guy that they are going to say ... what can we do for him? They feel bad and they want to make him feel better.''

 

      Mondano also grilled the accuser about his relationship with one of the three other alleged Shanley victims, Greg Ford. The man said he and Ford were very good friends and that he recovered his memory after hearing about Ford's allegations against Shanley.

 

      Mondano has suggested the man tailored his story to match Ford's and that he was motivated by money. The man settled his lawsuit with the Boston Archdiocese last year for $500,000.

 

      On Thursday, the defense plans to call its one and only witness the case: Elizabeth Loftus, a research psychologist who has challenged the science behind repressed memories.

 

      Cassidy said prosecutors will have an uphill battle getting the jury to believe Shanley's accuser repressed all memories of the alleged abuse.

 

      "They need to make a jury believe there is really such a thing as repressed memories,'' he said. "They also have to argue to the jury that the memory is accurate. If the memory is affected by the trauma, how can you be sure it's accurate?''