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Spotlight Report

Critics blast Law for comments on archdiocese files

By Michael Rezendes and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 4/13/2002

For several of Cardinal Bernard F. Law's detractors, the explanation Law offered for the role he and his top deputies played in the scandal involving the Rev. Paul R. Shanley was the most objectionable portion of the statement Law made yesterday.

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Previously secret church documents released Monday show that Law and other church officials allowed Shanley to remain in active ministry in the 1980s and early 1990s while church files contained complaints that he had sexually abused minors and had advocated sex between men and boys.

But in his statement, Law declined to take personal responsibility for the case and instead attributed Shanley's continued ministry to ''inadequate'' record keeping.

Law also said, ''Trying to learn from the handling of this and other cases, I am committed to ensure that our records are kept in way that those who deal with clergy personnel in the future will have the benefit of a full, accurate, and easily accessible institutional memory.''

But Robert A. Sherman, a lawyer whose firm represents a Newton man who alleges Shanley molested him repeatedly between 1983 and 1989, said he was dumbfounded by that assertion. When 800 pages of Shanley's personnel file were aired by an alleged victim of abuse, Sherman said, it took just a few minutes to locate evidence that the archdiocese was alerted in the 1960s to charges that Shanley had molested boys and that he had publicly advocated sexual relations between men and boys.

Rodney Ford, the father of alleged Shanley victim Gregory Ford, said Law's letter neglected to mention that a Newton woman twice alerted Law in the mid-1980s that Shanley had tried to grope a teenage boy whom she knew.

''He doesn't have a spin for that one, does he?'' said Rodney Ford, a Boston College police officer.

''Is the cardinal really saying that the reason Shanley brutally raped and sodomized my son is because they mishandled the documents?'' Ford asked. ''It looks like the victims have been lost in the shuffle, just like the paperwork.''

In the documents is a 1967 letter to the chancery from a priest recounting how he had talked to one boy who said he and two other boys had been molested by Shanley. The records contain a letter from Shanley denying the allegations but no evidence that the archdiocese contacted any of the boys. In 1993, Shanley admitted to the allegations.

What is most explicit in Shanley's files are records of three complaints - in 1977, 1979, and 1985 - that Shanley had publicly espoused sexual contact between men and boys. Moreover, the files make it clear that Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros and, later, Law, were both aware of Shanley's views. They became such an issue for Medeiros that he wrote to the Vatican about Shanley and removed him from his street ministry in 1979.

In 1985, Law had one of his aides - now Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H. - query Shanley about his views. That occurred just three months after Law installed Shanley as pastor of the now-defunct St. John the Evangelist Church in Newton.

When Shanley was finally sent for treatment in late 1993 to the Institute of Living in Hartford, he admitted that he had molested boys and had also had sexual relationships with men and women. The handwritten notes of the Rev. William F. Murphy, an archdiocesan official, pointed out that Shanley admitted to substantial complaints. The record cited his admissions to nine sexual encounters, four involving boys.

It was after those admissions that the cardinal endorsed Shanley's application to run a guest house in New York City frequented by youths.

Taken together, those references prompted some of the cardinal's critics to ridicule his explanation.

''Let's chip in and buy them some file cabinets and notepads. That will apparently solve the problem of clergy sexual abuse,'' said David Clohessy, the national president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

This story ran on page B7 of the Boston Globe on 4/13/2002.
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