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January 28, 2003
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Spotlight Report

Files show Shanley tried blackmail

Letter threatened Medeiros with 'shocking' revelations; late cardinal spurned effort

By Michael Rezendes and Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 4/26/2002

The Rev. Paul R. Shanley, the priest who approved of sex between men and boys, tried to blackmail former Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros into reversing his decision to end Shanley's 1970s-era street ministry, according to documents released yesterday by church lawyers acting under a court order.

The newly released records came 17 days after an initial batch of Shanley documents disclosed damning details about the church's casual response to an alleged molester in their midst and pushed Cardinal Bernard F. Law to the brink of resignation.

Following the release of the explosive documents, Law went on a secret trip to the Vatican and discussed with Pope John Paul II whether he should step down.

Among the more than 800 pages of new documents released by the Archdiocese of Boston is a draft letter apparently prepared for Medeiros, Law's predecessor. It is not clear who prepared the letter. But in it, Medeiros replies to a Feb. 16, 1979, letter from Shanley in which Shanley had protested his removal from his Roxbury-based street ministry and threatened to reveal to the media details about St. John's, the archdiocesan seminary, that would be ''far more shocking than my poor offerings.''

In Medeiros's letter to Shanley, the late cardinal dismissed what he regarded as Shanley's attempt at blackmail to save his post. ''I shall pass over in amazed but laughable silence the threats you invoke against me concerning further public pronouncements - this time about our Seminary,'' Medeiros wrote. ''I urge and direct you to take a parish assignment as so many of our priests do.''

Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney for the family of an alleged victim of Shanley, said the draft Medeiros letter makes it ''appear that Paul Shanley was blackmailing Medeiros,'' and said church officials might have allowed him to continue working as a priest because they feared he would expose misconduct by church officials.

''There is no other way to explain the nurturing, caring and feeding'' of Shanley, MacLeish said, referring to the many letters of support Shanley received from an array of top archdiocesan officials, including Law.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said he was acutely embarrassed by the discovery of the new documents.

''Any of us who are reasonable people can look at this and say this case was not handled well,'' he said. ''We did not oversee [Shanley's] ministry or his life well. This just adds more evidence to support that fact.''

The documents released earlier this month show that a top deputy to Law and Law himself recommended Shanley for jobs in the San Bernardino, Calif. diocese and the New York archdiocese, even though they had evidence that Shanley was a child molester and supported sex between adults and children.

Medeiros, in the draft letter released yesterday, tells Shanley: ''I have changed the assignments of many priests over the years but this is the first time that a priest has gone immediately to the press and the radio.'' The letter, marked ''confidential - rough,'' also says, ''This reaction by you as well as your comments on the airwaves and your recent letter has given added clarity and insight to me concerning you and things that I did not wish to believe about you.''

The new documents also show that Shanley contracted venereal disease, instructed teenagers how to inject drugs, and was a frequent object of chancery correspondence after he openly endorsed man-boy sexual relations.

Coyne denied suggestions by MacLeish that church officials purposely withheld the documents until yesterday in order to avoid unfavorable publicity during this week's Vatican summit between US cardinals, including Law, the pope, and other church leaders.

''Honestly, if we were trying to withhold information we never would have come forward with this,'' Coyne said.

But MacLeish said he is certain that additional documents required to be released by a court order have yet to be turned over by the archdiocese. He also said he filed a motion in Middlesex Superior Court yesterday asking that retired Superior Court Judge Herbert Abrams be named a special court master of discovery documents in the case.

MacLeish is representing a 24-year-old Newton man and his family in a lawsuit that accuses Law of failing to adequately supervise Shanley. Gregory Ford, the Newton man, said Shanley repeatedly molested him during the 1980s when Shanley was a priest at the now-shuttered St. John the Evangelist Church.

''We have absolutely zero confidence that we have all the records that are responsive to the court order,'' MacLeish said.

MacLeish said he was initially told the newly discovered documents amounted to only 100 to 150 pages, and that he has had time to carefully review only aobut 400 of the 800 pages he received.

MacLeish said he has spoken with individuals who have told him that they made complaints about Shanley to the archdiocese, but that he has found no record of those complaints in the documents that have been provided to him.

''We are still missing many, many documents,'' MacLeish said.

Regarding the records he does have, MacLeish said he has filed court notices to depose several church officials to determine why they were not turned over with the other records earlier this month in time to meet a court-imposed deadline. A judge has already ordered Law to give sworn testimony about how he handled Shanley's assignments.

The documents released yesterday contained portions of Shanley's personal writings - what appear to be diaries and a newsletter - that were received by the archdiocese in the early 1970s and reveal that during his street ministry, Shanley contracted venereal disease and assisted youths in avoiding disease while they took drugs.

''My God, I've even taught kids how to shoot up properly,'' Shanley said in one diary entry.

MacLeish said Shanley's writings are significant because they show that church officials had ample evidence that Shanley was a danger to the youths he counseled in his street ministry as early as 1972, yet continued to allow him to work as a priest and apparently did little to supervise him or alter his behavior.

''These are the writings of a perverted monster who was sent out into the field unsupervised to be with children,'' MacLeish said. ''We are talking about the most senior officials in the archdiocese.''

The documents were delivered by archdiocesan attorneys to MacLeish and to Ford and his parents yesterday morning as part of an April 3 court order.

Other documents released yesterday show that Thomas J. Flatley, one of the city's most prominent Catholics, wrote Medeiros criticizing Shanley's gay advocacy and his apparent support of drug use.

In his letter to Medeiros about Shanley, Flatley said, ''Already he has done a great amount of damage where he has spoken before groups, including college campuses ... Few have listened to him but he has been able to grab the headlines at the expense of family life and our Catholic philosophies.''

Flatley could not be reached for comment last night.

The letter prepared for Medeiros in which he apparently replies to a letter from Shanley was among the most provocative douments released yesterday.

''In my work, you gave me four directions,'' Shanley wrote to Medeiros. ''You forbad [sic] me to start a gay parish. You forbad me to encourage gay unions. You forbad me to continue to celebrate Mass for homosexuals. You forbad me to give my own opinion on the morality of homosexual acts. Although I agree with none of these proscriptions, I have been obediently observing them.''

Shanley by then was Boston's celebrated ''street priest,'' who wore long hair and blue jeans and openly questioned church teachings, particularly its condemnation of homosexuality, clashing often and publicly with his superiors.

In his February 1979 letter, Shanley complains to Medeiros that the cardinal's decision to remove him is tantamount to punishing the people he serves - ''sexual minorities, their parents, spouses, friends and counselors.''

And Shanley says Medeiros is ending his ministry without ''so much as a word of gratitude.'' And then he gives Medeiros something to think about.

''I have been given a list of the theological `updating' which occurs at St. John's Seminary and at the St. William's Hall programs. Were I to release this to the press you would have to fire another half dozen of your top priests since what they are saying is far more shocking than my poor offerings.''

The records released yesterday also contain excerpts from a diary Shanley apparently kept. The writings, in often dark and dramatic prose, explore his work among sexually promiscuous, drug-using street people.

''If the problems with drugs hadn't existed and grabbed all the headlines over the last few years, do you know what problem would have taken its place? VD,'' Shanley writes in an entry apparently dated in 1972. ''It has reached pandemic proportions.''

And Shanley said he knew of VD firsthand. ''Let me tell you that my name is to be found in the files of countless VD clinics across this fair land,'' he wrote. ''One of the first things I do in a new city is to sign up at the local clinics for help with my VD. And then I wait. In no clinic have I waited under 4 hours. There is next to no confidentiality - your name is bellowed out for all to hear (I meet lots of old friends this way).''

In a moment of introspection, he writes that much of his priestly life involves helping people choose the lesser of two evils. ''My God, I've even taught kids how to shoot up properly! How to double sterilize your works; how to avoid a hot shot. Not very pretty. But, you see, they die.''

The records released yesterday also contain letters to the archdiocese asking about Shanley's appearance at a December 1978 conference in Boston that was said to have led to the founding of a group that advocated tolerance of sexual relations between adult men and boys, the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

In a 1983 letter, the Rev. Hugh Weston, pastor of Desert Christian Church in Palm Desert, Calif., asked if Shanley had represented Medeiros at the conference, which was reported in the book, ''The Homosexual Network.''

''Please advise to all details,'' Weston wrote to Medeiros.

Bishop Thomas V. Daily, Medeiros's deputy, responded to Weston's letter, but only to say, ''I can assure you that Father Shanley did not represent His Eminence, Cardinal Medeiros, at NAMBLA.''

But Weston wrote back to Daily asking for more information about Shanley's appearance at the conference. ''You say he did not represent Cardinal Medeiros. But was he present? Was he later reprimanded, if so?''

There was no document released yesterday showing that Daily responded to this letter.

But the records show that in July 1983, Daily did respond to a Joseph H. Moynihan, a Brockton resident who had also written to the archdiocese about Shanley's presence at the conference.

Daily said Shanley was not representing Medeiros at the conference and instructed Moynihan to refer questions to Shanley himself.

At the time, Shanley was associate pastor at the now-defunct St. John the Evangelist Church in Newton. After receiving the inquiries concerning Shanley's appearance at NAMBLA, Daily informed Shanley that he was being made the pastor of St. John's.

Yesterday, Gregory Ford did not attend the press conference where MacLeish aired documents about the priest who Ford says molested him. But his parents did.

''I think God has just about had it with these guys,'' said Paula Ford, referring to church officials. ''The God we were brought up to know and love would never have had anything to do with these people.''

Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at; Thomas Farragher at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/26/2002.
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