The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church



A humbling exit from spotlight

By Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 4/9/2002

It was a spectacular rise and an invisible fall.

In the late 1960s, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley was Boston's celebrated ''street priest.'' By the mid-1980s, he was an accused child molester. And by the late 1990s, he was an out-of-work innkeeper, hiding in a New York hostel and suffering from a prostate condition.

The many sides of Shanley - and the powerful emotions that they produced - were on display yesterday in the hundreds of formerly secret church documents aired during an extraordinary news conference held by some of Shanley's accusers and a Boston lawyer.

The records include defiant letters written by Shanley in the 1960s, in which he denies allegations of sexual abuse, offers sarcastic assessments of his accusers, and refers to his own ''brilliance.''

For instance, in a letter written to an unidentified correspondent regarding a suggestion that he leave St. Philip Parish in Roxbury, Shanley said the idea ''smacked of a paternalism I despise but have learned to expect in the church.''

In another letter written to a fellow priest, Shanley referred, with a contemptuous adage, to a woman who had accused him of molesting a boy: ''Put a Roman collar on a lamp-post and some woman will fall in love with it.''

And in the same letter, he threatened church officials with legal action.

''Let me warn you,'' he wrote, ''if this paper implies a calmness and a rational confidence you are misled. As often as I opt for this conclusion I am within hours filled with rage and determined to fight and to make an example of this type of behavior to which we priests are subject, in a civil court case.''

In yet another letter addressing an accusation from a woman, Shanley wrote that he had successfully resolved a dispute between the woman and her husband and concluded, ''My brilliance was my downfall.''

But the letters written by Shanley in recent years strike more somber notes.

They were sent in the mid- and late 1990s, after Shanley was removed as pastor of the now-defunct St. John the Evangelist Church in Newton, and had been ordered to leave the San Bernardino Diocese in California after officials were informed of sexual abuse allegations against him.

Instead of returning to the Boston Archdiocese, Shanley worked out an arrangement to work beside an old friend from Boston, Dr. Frank Pilecki, running Leo House, a Catholic-affiliated hostel in New York City. Pilecki, former president of Westfield State College, resigned in 1986 amid allegations of sexual misconduct with two male students. He was was found not guilty in one case; charges were dropped in the other case after a civil suit settlement.

In 1995, after Pilecki announced that he had cancer and would resign, Shanley was tapped to succeed him.

But by then, time had caught up with Shanley.

Once a handsome, charismatic priest with long hair and sideburns, Shanley was an aging man with a prostate condition that prevented him from having sex, according to a memo by a Boston church official.

And a man who had accused Shanley of molesting him was, according to Shanley, ''stalking'' him.

Boston church officials, for their part, backed away from approving the plan for Shanley to take over Leo House, and instead raised concerns about his male roommate and his relationship with an openly gay employee at Leo House. In reply, Shanley wrote a March 2 letter in which he showed some old defiance, but also reflected a litany of new fears.

''I am terrified of dying as did my older brother, of a heart attack, alone,'' he wrote.

''I have had thus far four of the eight probable operations required.

''With a housing allowance of only two or three hundred dollars I would have to live in [a] hovel without the financial aid of a roommate.''

And, finally, ''I live in fear that the man who is stalking me will eventually become so frustrated that he will turn violent and ... go berserk, run amuck [sic] and do me harm.''

Later, he again wrote Boston officials, this time voicing frustration that his plans to run Leo House had not won their approval.

''Leo House has invested six months of pay, training, schooling ... and expectation to prepare me for running the hotel which now is denied to me.

''I will accept that. But I wish it had been told to me from the outset that I cannot accept any job in which I will be in charge, if indeed that is the new principle. I cannot help but wonder whether there are any other restrictions which I do not know about?''

In December 1995, an order of nuns living at Leo House wrote an urgent letter to Cardinal Bernard F. Law in Boston to say they had been told Shanley was a child molester by a person who had threatened to inform the New York Times.

Law, in a draft letter written to then-New York Cardinal John O'Connor, acknowledged the danger of unfavorable publicity posed by Shanley's promotion. Yet he also concluded by saying ''I would not object'' if O'Connor were to approve Shanley's promotion. But the letter was never sent because one of Law's aides learned that O'Connor had already nixed the idea.

In August 1997, shortly before he moved to San Diego, Shanley wrote a Boston church official that he was still at Leo House, even though he had resigned and was preparing to leave and was looking for work.

''Meanwhile,'' he wrote, ''I do not take phone calls and stay out of sight during the day.''

This story ran on page A13 of the Boston Globe on 4/9/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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