The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church



Case may turn on legally vulnerable evidence

By Michele Kurtz, Globe Correspondent, 5/3/2002

If prosecutors' evidence against the Rev. Paul Shanley comes largely from the account of a man who says he blocked out the alleged abuse for years, their case could hinge on the legally problematic issue of whether ''recovered'' memories can be admitted as evidence at trial.

Just last year, the state's highest court established a mechanism for allowing such testimony, but it is not a given that a judge will permit it. A ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court cast some doubt on the validity of repressed memories, but the decision's impact remains unclear.

In the Shanley case, the alleged victim, Paul Busa, says that Shanley sexually abused him for six years in the 1980s, but that he repressed his memories of it until February, when he saw a Globe story about the priest's alleged abuse of other children.

The case could renew a long-standing debate in medical and legal communities over the controversial concept of recovered memories.

''I have no doubt if this goes forward that this will be a big deal in court,'' said Brownlow Speer, chief appellate lawyer for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, which represented the defendant in the SJC case last year. ''There are psychiatric stars who will want to weigh in on each side.''

Speer was the lawyer for William Frangipane, who was convicted of raping a teenager who did not recall most details of the alleged assault until five years later.

The SJC in February 2001 ruled that Frangipane was entitled to a new trial because the expert witness used by prosecutors testified beyond the scope of her expertise.

Wendy Murphy, a Boston lawyer who objected to the court's original language, yesterday likened a victim's repressed memories to a defendant's contention that he lost consciousness and memory when he committed a criminal act. Such defenses are routinely used in criminal cases. Speer said the comparison is not applicable.

Proponents of the use of repressed memories in court say that physical and emotional trauma, such as being sexually assaulted as a child, can cause a person to block out the events until years later. Sometimes the memories are ''recovered'' in therapy.

But critics of the theory say medical studies supporting it are flawed and that in some cases, memories are actually imagined with the influence of a therapist.

Busa, who was a military security officer in the Air Force in Colorado, says he began remembering the alleged abuse by Shanley when he read a newspaper story in February about other allegations against the priest.

''As soon as Paul received the article, the memories of Father Shanley's abuse began flooding back,'' says a lawsuit Busa filed in February against Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

This story ran on page A30 of the Boston Globe on 5/3/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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