The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church



Bringing Shanley back


THE ALLEGATIONS against the Rev. Paul Shanley are serious. Martha Coakley, the Middlesex district attorney, is right to bring him back from California for action by a grand jury and possible trial.

Shanley's rights must be rigorously protected as the case advances. ''He is innocent until proven guilty,'' Coakley correctly said at a press conference yesterday.

The allegations against him involve repeated rape of a child between 1983 and 1990 at St. John the Evangelist parish in Newton. Coakley has refused to release the name, but two men have publicly made allegations of abuse. One, Gregory Ford, participated in a highly publicized April press conference at which Shanley's personnel file was released.

Many incidents in the file fall outside the statute of limitations or were not clear violations of law but raise questions that deserve answers. Was Shanley himself molested as a seminarian by church officials, as he implies in a letter in his file? Did he attempt to blackmail Cardinal Humberto Medeiros with information about abuse by priests? Did his work as a ''street priest'' have spiritual value or did it also include sex with minors? Did he resign as St. John's pastor in 1990 because of his health, disagreements over church policy, or because of sexual activity? Shanley's return to Massachusetts will provide him a chance to clarify his past. As uncomfortable as his story may be, it should be told. Secrecy and coverup have done enough damage.

Coakley said yesterday that two people have made allegations against Shanley but that others might have been victimized at the Newton church. If so, they ought to come forward. Coakley said Shanley's accuser reported that Shanley told him that ''nobody would believe him.'' Sexual abuse is abetted by secrecy. It's time for the truth to be revealed.

The abuse scandal within the Catholic Church has attracted such attention that the Shanley criminal case will be one of the most closely scrutinized in Massachusetts history. It will demand the district attorney's undivided attention and the removal of any appearance of conflict of interest. Coakley is a member of a committee advising the Boston archdiocese on sexual abuse policy, but, as she said yesterday, ''my job as DA comes first.'' It would make sense for her to resign from the committee.

The scandal in the church would not have been unearthed except for vigorous reporting by news organizations, especially The Boston Globe. Reporters from WBZ-TV in Boston and KFMB in San Diego showed great enterprise by discovering where Shanley was staying.

Massachusetts judges and Coakley should be careful that intense publicity does not compromise the integrity of the criminal process. The scales of justice - and public understanding - require a fine balance.

This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 5/3/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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