Boston Catholic Priest Abuse Conviction Re-Trial Hearing Today

Massachusetts’ highest court will decide today if Rev. Paul Shanley, perhaps the most notorious of the Boston priests accused of sex abuse, should receive another criminal trial. The hearing will center around the theory of repressed memory which played a central role in his 2005 conviction.
Critics of repressed memory call it “junk science” and have attacked the notion that a traumatic event such as the sexual abuse of a minor can be hidden or repressed for years and then suddenly re-surface after a triggering event recalls the traumatic memory of the sexual abuse.
Shanley’s trial in 2005 received nationwide attention in part because of the sheer number of those who accused him of sexual abuse. Shanley’s own past history as a priest who advocated sexual activity between men and boys didn’t help matters. Shanley was known to be active in the North American Man/Boy Love Association and spoke at several of their conferences.
Like many other priest sex abusers, Shanley was a charismatic figure who surrounded himself with troubled youth. He was well-known in Boston as the “street priest” for his work with runaways and kids who had become involved in drugs. It wasn’t until the Boston priest abuse scandal erupted in 2002 that Shanley’s dark past came to the forefront. While the public may not have been aware of Shanley’s sex abuse until 2002, officials from the Archdiocese of Boston had known Shanley presented a threat to minors since the early 1970’s. Internal church documents reveal that Cardinal Medeiros and other top officials of the Archdiocese including auxiliary bishops knew about Shanley’s problem and did nothing about it except to transfer from one parish to another. At one point, they even recommended him for priestly work in California.
The Shanley case serves as a stark reminder that the Church does not police itself. It also demonstrates why making the internal church documents public is so important. These church documents reveal a pattern and practice of hiding pedophile priests who continue to abuse children until they are finally caught by law enforcement. That’s why the Catholic Church continues its fight to keep these documents secret and out of the public eye. The Diocese of Bridgeport is taking this fight all the way to the US Supreme Court at parishioners’ expense, no less.