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Spotlight Report


Church letters show geniality

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 4/9/2002

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Some documents released on April 8, 2002, by the lawyer for a Newton man who claims he was raped as a child by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley:
1979: Medeiros on Shanley
1979: Street ministry ends
1990: Shanley's 'good standing'
1996: Shanley gets retirement
View all documents

After 36 years, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley was retiring and Cardinal Bernard F. Law's warm, personal letter to the priest extolled his years of service with heartfelt words.

''Over all of these years of generous and zealous care, the lives and hearts of many people have been touched by your sharing of the Lord's spirit,'' Law wrote on Feb. 29, 1996. ''You brought God's Word and His Love to His people and I know that that continues to be your goal despite some difficult limitations.''

The cardinal does not mention the settled cases against Shanley for sexually abusing boys or the cries of outrage from people who had heard Shanley speak favorably about men taking boy lovers.

Letters among some 800 pages of documents released yesterday by the attorney for one of Shanley's alleged victims show that Shanley, despite his record, remained on good terms with the cardinal and the hierarchy of church officials.

Two top priests who later became bishops, Robert J. Banks and John B. McCormack, commiserated with Shanley about his health, suggested he take up golf, and tried to straighten out his finances.

The letters to Shanley from Law, McCormack, and Banks deal with diverse topics that range from the state of Shanley's money problems to extending his sick leave for another year. But sprinkled among the letters are warm notes and unexplained references to ''malaise'' and other issues that Shanley was experiencing.

''The eighty-three golf courses sounds enticing,'' Banks, now bishop in Green Bay, Wis., wrote to Shanley in Palm Springs, Calif., in 1990. ''It may be that you could pick up the game.''

McCormack - now the bishop of the Manchester, N.H., diocese - also on several occasions was asked by Shanley to intercede with the diocese to help get him more money, and McCormack obliged.

The letters between Shanley and McCormack, who were classmates at St. John's Seminary in Brighton and were ordained together in 1960, are friendly missives filled with complaints about their various aches and pains as they grew older. In one, McCormack groused about an ailing leg, while Shanley said he needed money for allergy prescriptions. Another time, he reported he had hurt a leg while exercising.

McCormack wrote to Shanley in April 1990 to say he understood the pain he must be feeling after being removed as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Newton. The reason for his removal is not explained in the documents.

''Sensing the loneliness that comes with leaving a parish where you and the parishioners have meant so much to each other,'' McCormack wrote, ''the only thing I can think of are the words of Shakespeare - `Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.'''

Later that year, Law wrote to Shanley to extend his sick leave for another year, after hearing from McCormack that he had been experiencing a ''malaise.''

''I am sorry to hear that your health has not improved and my prayer is that you will experience better health over the next few months,'' the cardinal wrote.

In January 1991, McCormack flew to California to visit Shanley and another Boston archdiocesan priest on sick leave. The purpose of the visit was not spelled out in a letter prior to the trip, although it was clearly tied to church business. Still, the tone of the letter was warm. ''What do you think of my arriving on Friday for supper and staying overnight at your rectory. Would that be okay?'' McCormack wrote.

Apparently the trip was not a total success, because McCormack wrote Shanley in March 1991: ''It was good to see you. I regret that you continue to experience the feelings you have about ministry. My prayer is that it will come to a fruitful resolve.''

A letter written by McCormack on March 7, 1994, touches obliquely on Shanley's personal problems outside the church, along with the obligatory reference to his health. ''More so, I hope that your health will improve once you have had the [redacted] resolved. It is too bad that you have these complications in addition to the legal problems.''

That same day, McCormack wrote a memo to a diocesan official, urging that Shanley be given an additional $300 a month, on top of the $900 the church had been sending him.

As recently as 1995 - after the Boston archdiocese had paid monetary settlements to several of Shanley's victims - Law wrote a letter supporting his application to be director of the Leo House, a church-run New York City hostel frequented by student travelers.

In November 1995, Law wrote to Shanley in New York, after he found out he had not gotten the position: ''This has been a tumultuous year for you, Paul ... I know how hard you have worked to deal with the issues of the past, and the progress you have made.''

In Law's retirement letter to Shanley in 1996, he lauded the priest's accomplishments.

''All of us are truly grateful for your priestly care and ministry to all whom you have served,'' Law wrote. ''You are truly appreciated for all that you have done.''

Matt Carroll can be reached at

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 4/9/2002.
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