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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

A church betrayed

4/9/2002

 Related stories
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McGrory: The cardinal must go
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Editorial: A church betrayed
AS DOCUMENTED in his personnel file, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley was a depraved priest who knew few limits to his sexual cravings. The Archdiocese of Boston, under Cardinals Humberto Medeiros and Bernard Law, treated him as just another problem that could be solved by transferring him to a parish in Newton, then promoting him, then shuffling him off to a diocese in California.

There was no concern for Shanley's victims, no sensitivity to the harm he was doing, only concern to avoid scandal. And now the reputation of the archdiocesan leaders is in tatters, and the reckoning is due.

If the evidence presented yesterday by attorney Roderick MacLeish is correct, then there is no alternative but for the archdiocese to pay a substantial settlement to Gregory Ford, who says he was abused by Shanley at St. John the Evangelist parish in Newton. No compensation will ever be enough to atone for the innocence stolen, the trust betrayed.

The cost to the church is far greater than money. Law's reputation is battered even more today than when the Globe revealed he sent a known sex abuser, the Rev. John J. Geoghan, to St. Julia's parish in Weston. Medeiros transferred Shanley to the Newton church, but it was Law who promoted him to pastor, where he would have free rein to do what he wanted and enormous prestige among parishioners. Law and his subordinates ignored the persistent complaints of parishioner Jackie Gauvreau that Shanley was a child molester, and the cardinal sent him letters of praise in 1996.

Shanley, unlike the unassuming Geoghan, was a flamboyant, charismatic leader, attracting media attention as a ''street priest'' - the better to prey on runaways, as it happened. According to news clips in his personnel file, he attended meetings by advocates of man-boy sex at which he endorsed sexual relations with youngsters. Sending him to Newton merely meant that he turned his attention from street children to pupils in religious education classes. One of them was Gregory Ford, whom MacLeish says was raped by Shanley after being taken out of class.

Law's subordinates, especially Robert J. Banks and John B. MacCormack, both now bishops, also share the blame for coddling Shanley. But like a pastor in a parish, the bishop in charge has virtually total control of a diocese. Bernard Law set the policy and the tone for the Archdiocese of Boston as it sought to solve its sexual abuse crisis by quiet transfer, silence, and denial.

''Whatever may have occurred in the past,'' Donna M. Morrissey, speaking for the cardinal, said yesterday, ''there were no deliberate decisions to put children at risk.'' There was, however, a deep and deliberate abdication of pastoral responsibility toward any Catholic in the archdiocese who was not a priest.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 4/9/2002.
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