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Spotlight Report

  Eileen McNamara  

Raping girls less evil?


hy is the Rev. Robert E. Kelley free while the Rev. Paul R. Shanley and the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin sit in jail, held on high bail? Isn't each of these Catholic priests awaiting trial on child molestation charges? Hasn't each one admitted preying on children? Isn't Kelley the one who has done time in prison for the rape of a child while Paquin and Shanley have managed to avoid criminal prosecution until now?

Why isn't the convicted rapist sharing a lockup with the two alleged first offenders, a safe remove from the Commonwealth's children?

It couldn't be because Kelley's victims -- who, by his own account, could number more than 100 -- were girls, could it?

It is impossible to ignore the disparate treatment of the Kelley case and the specter of sexism and homophobia that it raises in this, the season of unrestrained judicial and journalistic scrutiny of accused sexual predators in the Roman Catholic clergy. Could it be that an impartial system of justice is just a little more horrified by the homosexual rape of little boys than by the heterosexual rape of little girls?

"You hear how hard it was for men to come forward because of their embarrassment at having to say what was done to them by a priest, what a lot of people think of as unnatural things," said Heather Mackey, who says Kelley raped her repeatedly when she was between the ages of 4 and 9. "It's hard for girls because we thought the priest loved us even when he did these awful things to us. It took me a long time to understand how young I was, how I couldn't have known better."

Last month, a judge ordered Shanley held on $700,000 -- later amended to $300,000 -- on the strength of a prosecutor's argument that he posed a flight risk and a danger to children. The same week, another prosecutor in another jurisdiction asked a judge to set bail at $1 million for Paquin for the same reasons. Bail was set at $100,000.

By contrast, Kelley walked out of Worcester Superior Court last week minutes after he entered a plea of not guilty to five counts of rape of the only accuser among many whose criminal complaint falls within the statute of limitations. The prosecutor, William M. McGourty, agreed with Kelley's defense lawyer that the priest should be freed.

Nevermind that Kelley admitted under oath in a civil suit in 1996 that he sexually molested "50 to 100" girls at a Leominster parish and others at parishes in Southbridge, Lunenburg, and Gardner. Nevermind that he spent several years in prison after he pleaded guilty to the rape of a Gardner girl in 1990.

"I have to trust the prosecutor's judgment to do the right thing," said Mackey of the decision by the office of Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte not to seek bail. "I didn't know those other priests were in jail. I don't understand."

Conte's office did not respond to calls seeking clarification, but last week was the second time that Worcester prosecutors stood mute when a judge asked for a bail recommendation in this case. Last month, Leominster District Court Judge Vito A. Virzi set bail at $200,000 over the objections of the defense and prosecution, saying that Kelley "has a substantial record of similar offenses for which he was convicted and sentenced for indecent assault and battery and rape of a child." Hours later, Worcester Superior Court Judge Francis R. Fecteau vacated Virzi's order.

In addition to gender bias and homophobia, widely varying bails set in strikingly similar cases raise questions about how fairly the state's bail statute is being applied. The law was toughened at the behest of then-Governor William F. Weld, a former federal prosecutor, to permit judges to weigh the dangerousness of a defendant in addition to the risk of flight.

In none of these cases was a dangerousness hearing held. Bail came down to prosecutorial and judicial discretion. And, that worked out better for the boys than for the girls.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 6/16/2002.
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