Defrocked priest Paul Shanley, a central figure in the Boston Archdiocese clergy sex abuse scandal, was sentenced Tuesday to 12 to 15 years in prison for raping a boy repeatedly in the 1980s, sometimes in a church confessional.
“It is difficult to imagine a more egregious misuse of trust and authority,” Judge Stephen Neel said in imposing the term. But he turned aside a prosecutor’s request for a life sentence.
Shanley, 74, once known for a being a hip “street priest” who reached out to troubled children and homosexuals, was convicted last week of two counts each of child rape and indecent assault and battery on a child.
He will be eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of his sentence, or 8 years. He was also sentenced to 10 years’ probation.
The case hinged on the reliability of the accuser’s memories of the abuse, which he said he recovered three years ago as the clergy sex abuse scandal unfolded in the media.
No life term
Prosecutor Lynn Rooney had recommended a life sentence, saying Shanley used his position of authority to gain the trust of the boys he then molested.
“He used his collar and he used his worshipped status in that community,” Rooney said. “There has been no remorse shown on the part of this defendant. There has been no acceptance of responsibility.”
Shanley’s lawyer, Frank Mondano, did not suggest a specific term, but asked Neel to allow Shanley to serve his sentence in a county lockup rather than state prison. The judge refused. Another notorious pedophile priest, John Geoghan, was killed in a Massachusetts state prison, allegedly by a fellow inmate.
Mondano said the prosecution’s case was built on “vilification, half truths and lies.” He has said he plans to appeal.
Among the spectators who packed the courtroom for Shanley’s sentencing hearing were other people who accused Shanley of sexually abusing them but were not part of the criminal case. As Shanley was led from the courtroom in handcuffs, they burst into applause and one man called out “Goodbye.”
Victims of abusive priests and their advocates were pleased by the sentence, saying it could amount to life in prison given Shanley’s age and a heart condition.
“The important thing is that he’s off the streets,” said David Clohessey, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “We’re relieved and grateful and believe Massachusetts is a safer place because of this decision.”
Victim, family make statements
Shanley’s accuser, now a 27-year-old firefighter in a suburb of Boston, said the former priest would pull him from Sunday morning catechism classes at St. Jean’s parish in Newton and rape and fondle him. The abuse began in 1983, when he was 6 years old, and continued for six years, he said.
Rooney read a written statement by Shanley’s accuser.
“I want him to die in prison,” the man’s statement said. “I hope it is slow and painful.”
The accuser’s wife addressed Shanley in court, saying “no words can ever explain my disgust for you. You are a coward. You hid behind God.”
“You robbed my little boy of his innocence,” the accuser’s father told Shanley. “You destroyed his understanding of good and bad and right and wrong.”
During the trial, the accuser broke down on the witness stand as he described in graphic detail being abused by Shanley in a church bathroom, rectory, confessional and pews.
“He told me nobody would ever believe me if I told anybody,” he testified.
Background to case
Shanley became a focal point of the scandal after plaintiffs’ attorneys forced the church to release internal records about him. Among the records were documents indicating that he was transferred from parish to parish after allegations surfaced, and that he had attended a forum with other people who later went on to form the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA.
He was one of the few priests among hundreds implicated in the scandal to face criminal charges. Most others escaped prosecution because the statute of limitations ran out long ago. But in Shanley’s case, the clock stopped when he moved out of Massachusetts. He was arrested in California in May 2002.
Some inmate advocates say whatever prison term Shanley gets could amount to a death sentence.
Geoghan was beaten and strangled behind bars in 2003, a year after being convicted of molesting a 10-year-old boy. A fellow prisoner later told investigators he killed Geoghan “to save the children.”
Shanley is “so high-profile that that puts a big target on his back,” said James Pingeon, a lawyer at Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, a group that provides civil legal services to inmates. “We feel concerned. Obviously, he’s a vulnerable person because of his notoriety and his age.”