Former priest convicted of rape

Mass. jury is convinced by emotional testimony of childhood-abuse victim

February 08, 2005|By Elizabeth Mehren | Elizabeth Mehren,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Defrocked priest Paul Shanley was found guilty yesterday of repeatedly raping a young boy at a Boston-area church in the 1980s.

A jury of seven men and five women deliberated nearly 15 hours before convicting Shanley, 74, on two counts of child rape and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child.

One of the most notorious figures in the Boston clerical abuse scandal, Shanley showed no emotion at the verdict. He was immediately placed in custody, his bail revoked. Shanley, who is to be sentenced Feb. 15, could receive life in prison.

Defense attorney Frank Mondano said he would appeal.

Shanley's accuser, now a 27-year-old firefighter who had asked not to be named during the two-week trial, buried his face in his hands and broke into sobs when the former priest was declared guilty. Holding hands with his wife, he left the court without comment.

Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley said gaining a conviction was "an uphill battle" because the case relied on old memories and a man who had not spoken publicly of the abuse until recently.

Shanley's accuser was one of four men who said the priest molested them at St. Jean's Roman Catholic parish in Newton, outside Boston. Three backed out or were dropped by prosecutors before the trial began, leaving only the firefighter to testify.

Alternately tearful and combative, he testified that the abuse began in 1983, when he was 6 years old and attending catechism classes at St. Jean's. He said Shanley raped him in the church bathroom, the pews, the confessional and the rectory.

Prosecutor Lynn Rooney told jurors that Shanley repeatedly had told the victim, "If you tell, no one will believe you."

The accuser said the abuse continued until he was 12 years old. But he said he had repressed all memory of it until 2001. After he learned of two Boston newspaper articles describing alleged sexual abuse by Shanley, the accuser said, his memories "came flooding back."

Mondano argued that the accuser had been motivated by greed and a desire for attention. Last year, the firefighter accepted a $500,000 settlement from the Boston archdiocese.

In the clerical abuse scandal that erupted in Boston three years ago, Shanley was the most prominent of scores of priests accused of molesting children over at least four decades.

Many of the charges were validated in previously secret documents maintained by the Boston Archdiocese, which showed that church officials knew of sexual abuse complaints against the priests. Rather than reassigning them to jobs where they would not work with children, church officials moved the accused priests from parish to parish. Abuse allegations against Shanley dated at least to 1967, according to church files.

As a "street priest" who ministered to troubled adolescents, Shanley cut a dashing figure in Boston in the 1970s. He kept his hair long, wore jeans and rode a motorcycle.

The Boston abuse scandal led to an $85 million settlement by the archdiocese with more than 500 victims. Most of the priests named in civil lawsuits managed to avoid criminal trials because the statute of limitations on the alleged abuse had run out.

But Shanley had moved from Massachusetts to California in 1990, stopping the clock on this state's 15-year statute of limitations. He was arrested in San Diego in May 2002 and extradited to Massachusetts.

Shanley was defrocked by the Vatican last year.

"There aren't any winners here today, only losers," said Shanley's niece Teresa, who had mortgaged her house to help her uncle make his $300,000 bail. "We're no closer to finding out the truth, or why it even happened, than we were before."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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