The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Law distances self on Shanley

Says he wasn't aware until '93 of allegations

By Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 5/20/2002

In his most substantive comments on his role in the case of accused child molester the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, Cardinal Bernard F. Law said yesterday that he was unaware of any allegation of sexual misconduct against Shanley until 1993, when the Archdiocese of Boston revoked the onetime Newton pastor's authorization to work as a part-time priest in California.

''Before God I assure you that my first knowledge of an allegation of sexual abuse against this priest was in 1993,'' Law wrote in a letter distributed throughout the archdiocese. ''It was immediately acted upon, and the authorization for him to serve as a priest in California was rescinded.''

In the three-page letter released yesterday afternoon, Law also delivered his most abject apology to date for his role in the clergy sexual abuse scandal that is now roiling the Catholic Church worldwide, acknowledging he has become an ''object of contempt.''

''The harm done to victims and their families is overwhelming. Bewilderment has given rise to anger and distrust,'' Law wrote. ''In the process, my credibility has been publicly questioned and I have become for some an object of contempt. I understand how this is so, and I am profoundly sorry that the inadequacy of past policies and flaws in past decisions have contributed to this situation.''

Law also said he had relied on his predecessors as archbishop in naming Shanley a priest and supervising his activities, adding that he only recently learned that allegations of child sexual abuse had been lodged against Shanley as early as 1966.

''When I arrived in Boston in 1984, I assumed that priests in place had been appropriately appointed,'' Law wrote. ''It did not enter into my mind to second-guess my predecessors, and it simply was not in the culture of the day to function otherwise.''

Shanley, a celebrated Boston ''street priest'' in the 1970s, was arrested in San Diego May 2 on a warrant by Newton police charging three counts of child rape, and is being held in Cambridge, where he is facing charges that he sexually abused a former Newton man, Paul Busa, from 1983 to 1990, beginning when Busa was 6 years old.

A second Newton man, Gregory Ford, and his family have filed suit against Law, claiming that he was negligent in his supervision of Shanley when Shanley allegedly raped Ford, also beginning when he was about 6 years old and lasting until he was 11.

Yesterday, one of Ford's attorneys rebutted Law's statement.

''It seems to me that the cardinal is set on blaming his under-

lings and refusing to take responsibility for one of his priests,'' said Robert Sherman of the firm of Greenberg Traurig.

Sherman also noted that Law's letter omitted much of Law's own role in Shanley's career. For instance, church documents released in the public discovery process of the Ford lawsuit show that Law wrote a 1997 letter to then-New York Cardinal John O'Connor recommending Shanley for a job as director of Leo House, a Catholic-affiliated hostel.

''If you do decide to allow Father Shanley to accept this position, I would not object,'' Law wrote, although O'Connor had by then apparently vetoed the idea and the letter was never sent.

Sherman also pointed to a 1996 letter from Law to Shanley, noting Shanley's retirement and praising his years in the priesthood. ''For thirty years in assigned ministry you brought God's word and his love to his people and I know that continues to be our goal despite some difficult limitations,'' Law wrote. ''This is an impressive record and all of us are truly grateful for your priestly care and ministry to all whom you have served during those years.''

In addition, although Law insists he was not aware until 1993 that Shanley had been accused of sexual abuse, church records show that Law did receive a letter in 1985 notifying him that Shanley was endorsing sexual relations between men and boys.

The April 29, 1985, letter, sent to Law roughly four months after Shanley had been promoted to pastor in Newton, was written by a Rochester, N.Y., woman who had attended a talk at which, in addition to endorsing man-boy love, Shanley said that children are often the seducers in adult-child sexual relationships.

In his May 15, 1985, reply to the woman, the Rev. John B. McCormack - then one of Law's top deputies and now bishop of Manchester, N.H. - wrote, ''Archbishop Law received your letter of April 29, 1985. He is sorry to hear you were disturbed about the talk given by Father Paul Shanley last November regarding homosexuals and asked that I respond on his behalf.''

The following month, McCormack wrote to Shanley to notify him of the woman's complaint, informing Shanley that Law had personally contacted him about the matter.

In the June 4, 1985, letter, McCormack wrote, ''Recently I received a note from the Cardinal about a letter he had received from Miss Wilma Higgs of Rochester, New York. It pertained to a talk you gave in the Rochester area last November.''

Law made no mention of his letter yesterday during Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, where he has often addressed his role in the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Donna M. Morrissey, his spokeswoman, did not say why the letter was released to the media so late in the day.

But Sherman said, ''The timing on a late Sunday afternoon seems to me like a transparent attempt to get something out when no one would be available to respond.''

Still, Law said the lawsuits he and other officials in the archdiocese are facing, and the church documents they have produced through the legal discovery process, necessitated his letter.

''It often appears that these cases are being tried in the press during this discovery period rather than being more appropriately tried later in court,'' Law wrote. ''Because only selected passages of many documents have been made public, I would like to give again an account of my stewardship in handling these cases.''

In addition to his role as a defendant in the Shanley case, Law is a defendant in 25 of the 84 lawsuits filed by victims of former priest John J. Geoghan, sentenced to a 9- to 10-year prison term earlier this year for molesting a minor.

Because of these and other lawsuits - and court orders requiring the church to file evidence in accord with standard rules in civil lawsuits - thousands of pages of church records documenting the role of church officials in handling priests accused of sexual misconduct have been made public.

These include more than 1,600 pages of church documents in the Shanley case, and transcripts of sworn pretrial testimony of numerous church officials, including Law.

Law, in his letter yesterday, which came more than a month after the release of the Shanley files, also referred to a report, which appeared in the Globe, that he had been told after a 1984 Mass that Shanley had had improper contact with a minor. ''I have absolutely no memory of such a conversation, and those who have worked most closely with me can attest that such a report would have been acted upon,'' Law wrote. ''There is no record of that having happened.''

Law was apparently referring to Jackie Gauvreau, a parishioner at the now-closed St. John the Evangelist Church in Newton, who has said she twice told Law that Shanley had abused a teenage boy who told her of the abuse.

By Gauvreau's account, she became obsessed with exposing Shanley after she was told by a 15-year-old in the early 1980s that Shanley had groped him in a car.

In an interview with the Globe in February, Gauvreau said she first notified Law of the alleged abuse at a televised Mass for which she sang in the choir. When Law appeared, ''I saw him and I went right for him,'' Gauvreau said. ''I looked him straight in the face and said, `Paul Shanley, the priest at St. John's in Newton, molested a 15-year-old boy.' I gave him my name and the church I belonged to and he said he would look into it.''

Gauvreau could not be reached for comment last night.

Last month, Law angered victims and their advocates when he made a statement attributing Shanley's long tenure in the Archdiocese of Boston and in California despite the complaints against him to poor record keeping.

''The case of Fr. Paul Shanley is particularly troubling for us,'' Law wrote in an April 12 letter. ''For me personally, it has brought home with painful clarity how inadequate our record keeping has been.''

The Boston archdiocese approved Shanley's transfer to St. Anne's parish in San Bernadino, Calif., in 1990 with a top-level written assurance that Shanley had no significant problems in his past.

The letter, which cleared the way for Shanley to work for three years at St. Anne's, without restriction on his contact with children, was written by Bishop Robert J. Banks, who was then Law's top deputy.

Yesterday, Law said, ''The attestation that he was a priest in good standing at the time was in accord with the facts as I knew them then.''

In his letter yesterday, Law reviewed his role in formulating a policy for dealing with priests accused of sexually abusing minors, including the formation of a written 1993 policy that established a review with lay specialists to make decisions about priests who had been accused of misconduct.

Law noted that the policy did not require allegations of sexual misconduct to be reported to civil authorities - a decision made because ''it was our judgment at the time that such reporting was more appropriately the victim's choice.''

But Roderick MacLeish Jr., another attorney with Greenberg Traurig representing the Ford family, said that if Law had been concerned about victims of clergy sexual abuse he would have informed parishioners in the San Bernardino, Calif., and Newton parishes where Shanley had worked that Shanley was a suspected child molester.

MacLeish, who represented most of the victims of former priest James R. Porter, a child molester from the Fall River diocese convicted to an 18-to-20-year prison term in 1993, recalled that at the time Law publicly chastised the news media for its coverage of the Porter case.

''The mind-set of the cardinal in 1993 was not at all to make sure victims were not inhibited from coming forward,'' MacLeish said. ''The mind-set back then was to be angry at anyone making these allegations, even if they were true.''

During his Mass commemorating Pentecost yesterday, widely regarded as the birthday of the Catholic Church, Law urged Catholics around the city and world to unite for peace and forgiveness, ''to profess our faith in the Lord.''

Without specifically commenting on the clergy abuse scandal, Law told about 200 parishioners at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross that the Lord's teachings said Catholics ''must never denigrate into a slogan of division.''

He was greeted with cheers and applause after Mass.

Meanwhile, about 30 protesters outside the church repeated demands for Law's resignation, echoing the voice of other Catholics around the region who think the church cannot heal with the cardinal in charge.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at Michael Rosenwald of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/20/2002.
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