Gay priest at center of clergy abuse scandal defrocked

BY admin

May 07 2004 12:00 AM ET

Paul Shanley, a key figure in the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, has been defrocked, according to a document obtained by the Associated Press.

In a letter dated May 3, Boston archbishop Sean O'Malley told Shanley he was being removed from his duties as a priest and that Pope John Paul II made the decision on February 19. The letter informed Shanley that he will no longer be eligible for financial support or benefits from the archdiocese and that his stipend and medical benefits will be eliminated at the end of the month. "I earnestly exhort you to take part in the life of the People of God in a manner befitting your new ecclesiastical status, by offering a good example and thereby demonstrating that you are a faithful son of the Church," O'Malley said in the letter.

The archdiocese intended to make the decision public "for the good of the Church" by May 15, according to the letter. The archdiocese did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Shanley, 73, has pleaded innocent to pending criminal charges that he raped Paul Ford, Paul Busa, and two other men at St. Jean's Parish in Newton, Mass., in the 1980s. He was released on $300,000 bail and is awaiting trial, which has been tentatively set for October. Last month the church settled lawsuits from four men and their family members against the church over Shanley's alleged misdeeds.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney whose firm represented Shanley's alleged victims and hundreds of other victims of clergy sex abuse, said the plaintiffs sought Shanley's dismissal from the clergy. He said he received assurances from the archdiocese that Shanley would be defrocked, although it was not a condition of the settlement. "It often takes years, and it suggests to me that the archbishop is moving forward expeditiously with these priests," MacLeish said. "There was no deal that was made...but there was an understanding that it would happen. It's happened much earlier than I thought."

Shanley became a focal point of the clergy sex abuse scandal after internal church records showed that he was transferred from parish to parish after allegations surfaced. Hailed as a hero and a crusader in the 1960s and 1970s for his street ministry working with disenfranchised youth, he worked with the permission of former cardinals Richard Cushing and Humberto Medeiros but with little oversight from the archdiocese and became known as the "street priest" or the "hippie priest." He frequented Boston's "combat zone"--the red-light district, alleys, bus stations, and gay bars where troubled and confused youth gathered.

And even though the Catholic Church condemns homosexuality, Shanley preached that homosexuality was OK and even advocated for gay rights. He called himself a "sexual expert" and advertised his counseling services in the alternative press. Even as city officials hailed his work, allegations were surfacing of sexual contact with some of the young boys he was supposed to be helping.

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