Prosecutors formally dropped an accuser from the criminal case against defrocked priest Paul Shanley, leaving just one alleged victim to testify in the trial that began Tuesday. Shanley, one of the most notorious figures in the clergy sex abuse scandal, once operated a ministry for gay youth and later helped run a gay resort in Palm Springs, Calif.
Prosecutors already had dropped two other alleged victims from the case against the 73-year-old Shanley, and they dropped the third because they've been unable to find him since a hearing in October when he had difficulty remaining composed during testimony. The witness's removal from the case leaves Shanley facing three charges of raping a child and two charges of indecent assault and battery on a child. About 80 prospective jurors were being questioned Tuesday in Middlesex County, Mass., superior court for the child rape trial, which is expected to last about two weeks.
Shanley was once known as a long-haired priest in blue jeans who reached out to Boston's troubled gay and lesbian youth in the late 1960s. He was defrocked by the Vatican last year after being charged with sexually abusing boys at a Newton parish between 1979 and 1989. Prosecutors started with four alleged victims who said they were raped by Shanley at St. Jean's parish when they were children. The men told similar stories of being taken out of religious education classes and taken to the church rectory, confessional, or restroom, where they were raped by Shanley.
The third alleged victim dropped from the case is now 35. He testified at a pretrial hearing in October and was aggressively questioned by Shanley's lawyer, Frank Mondano. Prosecutors said the man, who has battled homelessness and drug addiction, vomited after Mondano's cross-examination, then disappeared. The remaining accuser is 27 and says he was sexually abused by Shanley between 1983 and 1989, when he was between the ages of 6 and 11. Prosecutors said they plan to call the man's father and wife to testify.
Shanley's is one of just a handful of criminal cases that prosecutors have been able to bring to trial against priests accused of molesting young parishioners decades ago. Most of the priests accused in hundreds of civil lawsuits avoided criminal prosecution because the alleged crimes were committed so long ago that the statute of limitations made filing charges impossible. But because Shanley moved out of Massachusetts, the clock stopped. He was arrested in California in May 2002.
Shanley became a lightning rod for public anger over the clergy sex abuse scandal after internal church documents were released showing that church officials knew he had advocated sex between men and boys, yet they continued to transfer him from parish to parish. Shanley supporter Paul Shannon, who met the former priest when Shannon was a Jesuit seminarian in the late '60s and early '70s, said he believes his friend is a victim of hysteria over the abuse scandal. "These notions that Paul Shanley would deliberately hurt kids...that is simply preposterous for anybody who knows him," said Shannon, a librarian and teacher who lives in Boston. He said he believes it will be impossible for Shanley to get a fair trial because of all the publicity around the case.
Mondano has said he will argue that the man made up his story of abuse after hearing of the scandal. All of Shanley's alleged victims settled lawsuits with the church in April 2004. The exact monetary terms were not disclosed, but an attorney for the men has said each received more than $300,000. Judge Stephen Neel said he will question prospective jurors about whether they have been sexually abused, about their views on homosexuality, and about their feelings regarding the Catholic Church and the Boston archdiocese in particular.