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Spotlight Report


Medeiros saw 'ominous' shift

By Sacha Pfeiffer, 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

It was 1979, and in the eyes of Cardinal Humberto Medeiros the increasing number of gay priests was nothing short of ''ominous,'' and the rising population of homosexual seminarians represented a grave threat to the future of the Catholic Church.

His solution: to purge the seminaries of gay men.

''The danger in the seminaries, your Eminence, is obvious,'' Medeiros wrote in his Feb. 12, 1979, eight-page letter to Franjo Cardinal Seper, a high-ranking Vatican official. ''Where large numbers of homosexuals are present in a seminary, other homosexuals are quickly attracted. Other healthier young men tend to be repelled.''

As a result, Medeiros continued, ''We are saying quite explicitly that homosexuals should not be admitted to the seminary.''

Medeiros's comments, made in response to an inquiry by Seper about a series of tapes on homosexuality produced by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, provide an early window into concerns among top church officials about what they felt was the corrupting influence of homosexuality in the priesthood.

Medeiros's letter was written more than 20 years before similar sentiments were expressed by Pope John Paul II's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who said publicly last month that homosexuals ''just cannot be ordained'' if the pedophilia scandals plaguing the church are to be stopped.

The issue of whether homosexuality is at the root of the clergy sex abuse crisis now roiling the church has become a lightning rod in the debate over the matter, particularly since Navarro-Valls made his controversial remarks.

Medeiros's letter was among roughly 800 previously confidential documents made public yesterday in connection with a civil lawsuit filed against Cardinal Bernard F. Law by Greg Ford, 24, of Newton, who alleges he was repeatedly raped by Shanley during the 1980s.

In the letter, Medeiros described Shanley as a ''troubled priest,'' even though later the same year Medeiros assigned him to parish ministry at St. John the Evangelist in Newton, where Ford alleges his abuse took place.

In his remarks to Seper, Medeiros wrote of a ''widespread homosexual culture'' in the United States, and said that ''since our seminaries reflect the local American culture, the problem of homosexuality has surfaced there in a manner which is widespread and quite deep.''

As a result, he said, a more stringent admission policy had been put in place to prevent gays from being admitted to seminaries.

He boasted that the new measures had yielded tangible results.

''We have a seminary which has now - within a five-year period - become almost fully transformed into a community of healthy, well-balanced young men,'' Medeiros wrote. ''Our numbers are much smaller but now we will attract more young men who will be the right kind of candidates.''

Furthermore, he said, efforts to ''strengthen the core of trained spiritual directors'' had proven to be ''especially helpful in weeding out overt or latent homosexuals.''

Also included among the documents released yesterday was a Feb. 9, 1979, letter written to Medeiros by an anonymous seminarian who said he had entered St. John's Seminary confused about his sexuality and had a homosexual experience.

He confessed the incident to his spiritual director, he wrote, ''but there were no attempts on his part to deal with it.''

The risk in this, the man wrote is that other seminarians grappling with their sexuality would progress to the priesthood ''ill-equipped to handle such issues.''

Copies of letters written by Cardinal Medeiros and Cardinal Law to Father Shanley, and between officials of the Archdiocese of Boston and the Diocese of San Bernardino, can be viewed at

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