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 Latest coverage

April 6
Church settles with four in suit

February 25, 2004
Priest was a potential witness

July 22
CEO would testify of abuse

May 8
Personal records are barred

April 8
Victim's memory is questioned

April 5
Archdiocese motion granted

February 28
Disagreement over court dates

January 28, 2003
Steps on Shanley are detailed

January 14, 2003
Former vicar admits he erred

December 12
Shanley is released on bail

December 10
Shanley may be freed on bail

December 1
Battle over files intensifies

Earlier stories

Spotlight Report

Letters offer insight on Shanley

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 4/27/2002

More than 100 of the 800 pages of documents related to the Rev. Paul R. Shanley released two days ago were written by the accused molester and portray an egotistical, argumentative, and crass man enamored with his image as a ''radical'' priest.

Shanley, who approved of sex between men and boys, wrote of the danger runaways faced from adult ''predators.''

He criticized other priests.

He viewed himself as waging a lonely, courageous battle against forces, including members of the Catholic Church, lined up against ''alienated youth.''

And he gushed when he quoted from a laudatory poem a girl once wrote about him.

The insights into Shanley's views and personality are contained in a series of letters or newsletters, some more than 35 pages long and single-spaced, written between 1969 and 1973. The intended audience or recipient is unclear.

The letters ramble from topic to topic, but a constant thread is street life and its dangers. In a 1973 letter, Shanley noted that ''it is a devilishly tricky thing to work with [runaways] since the predatory adults are still around (most homosexuals are not predators).''

These are the same types of youth Shanley has been accused of sexually abusing. In another letter, he quoted from a poem called, ''Father Paul's Lament,'' written by an unidentified ''street kid,'' which described what a wonderful job he was doing:

''They tried to find him and bury his mind/But they couldn't catch up./No, they couldn't get to him./He was always one game ahead, one full game ahead/and he still is, THE CONFOUNDED THING!!!''

Earlier this month, the Archdiocese of Boston, under a court order, provided more than 800 pages of documents to attorneys representing Gregory Ford, a Newton man who claims he was molested by Shanley as a youth.

However, in an embarrassing turn for the church, chancery officials said this week they had found another 800 pages of documents. The letters released Thursday include the draft of a letter, apparently prepared for Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros. The letter is in response to a letter from Shanley, who had written the cardinal in February 1979 protesting his removal from his street ministry.

Shanley had threatened Medeiros that he would reveal to the media unspecified problems at St. John's Seminary in Brighton. Medeiros responded that he would ''pass over in laughable silence the threats you invoke.''

The first set of documents released also contained a threat by Shanley against the archdiocese. In 1995, while making an ultimately failed bid to get hired as director of Leo House, a Catholic-affiliated hostel in New York, he wrote to an aide of Cardinal Bernard Law that he had ''abided'' by his promise not to tell anyone he had been molested as a seminarian by a priest, a faculty member, a pastor, and an unidentified cardinal.

Shanley's last known address was in San Diego, though his whereabouts are unknown.

Shanley, who reveled in the publicity he received as Boston's ''street'' priest from 1970 to 1979, also was not shy about attacking other priests. In a letter dated April 27, 1973, Shanley asked Medeiros if Bishop Jeremiah F. Minihan was still state chaplain of the Elks, ''a racist organization.'' (At that time, the Elks faced pressure to change their whites-only membership, which they later did.)

''In order to avoid any embarrassment to you, I would appreciate learning your position on the matter,'' Shanley wrote to Medeiros.

The outcome of the spat is unknown, other than copies of the letters were sent to Minihan, who died that year of a heart attack.

Shanley clearly identified with those he referred to as ''freaks'' and ''hippies'' and often went out of his way to take shots at other churchmen. In a newsletter from July 1972, he criticized an archbishop in Montreal who was trying to reach out to youth and who said, ''The church is always waiting to forgive and welcome them back.''

''Insufferable impertinence!'' wrote Shanley. ''It is the church who must ask their forgiveness.''

Shanley's language could be crude. In a newsletter, the priest mentioned finding a young, underage girl on the street and wondered if he should leave her where she was or escort her to a shelter in which he had little faith. Shanley uses profane language to worry whether he should leave her to be preyed upon by a ''dirty old man on the [Boston] Common'' or a ''dirty young man'' at the shelter.

Despite his energetic pace in the 1970s, in later years Shanley complained about a wide variety of ailments that had slowed him.

In an undated memo that appears to have been written about 1990, shortly after he left his last parish in Newton and moved to California, he takes three pages to note his various ailments. His list includes bursitis, gum disease, lower throat spasms, palsy of the hands, prostate woes, and an allergy to cigarette smoke. Beside that particular allergy, he wrote: Avoid clergy meetings.

This story ran on page A6 of the Boston Globe on 4/27/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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