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Priests, Sex, and Recovered Memory

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Dear editor:

Michael Miner's February 18 piece in the Reader posits the theory that ex-priest Paul Shanley was the victim of a miscarriage of justice. Miner quoted Shanley as saying he "never had sex with a child" and "never forced anyone into sex." Miner is perfectly willing to accept Shanley at his word, but spends much of his article disparaging the prosecution's witness in particular and the concept of repressed memory in general. The author points out that three other prosecution witnesses dropped their charges, unwilling or unable to endure the withering character assassination of Shanley's defense counsel. Mr. Busa, the plaintiff who stuck it out to the end, even told the judge he wasn't sure he could take any more of the assault.

Does Mr. Miner bother to inform his readers that Shanley admitted being a founder of NAMBLA, which advocates adult-child sex, and has lectured at NAMBLA meetings? Does Miner mention that Shanley was an investor in a nude beach for homosexuals in California? Does Miner recount for his readers that the Archdiocese of Boston sent Shanley to California with a letter stating he was a priest in good standing when they already had reams of evidence of his serial child sexual abuse in Massachusetts? Does Miner tell us that Dr. Elizabeth Loftus's exclusive practice involves collecting exorbitant fees as a witness in sex-abuse trials involving priests? Aren't you the least bit skeptical of such a "witness for hire," Mr. Miner?

Mr. Miner, don't you wonder why Shanley was not called by his attorney in his own defense, where he could have recounted for the jury all the wonderful service he offered the street people during his long career? Could it be that cross-examination by the prosecution might reveal just what a monster Shanley truly is? Don't you realize that a trial is supposed to be a search for truth?

Mr. Miner laments the possible near-term demise of Shanley at the hands of fellow criminals when he meets his new roommate. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of hardened criminals is aware that most were themselves abused physically and sexually as children. The fact that child abusers don't last long in prison is usually attributed to something akin to "honor among thieves." Perhaps Mr. Miner could next bless us with an article blasting the credibility of a priest who didn't commit Shanley's heinous crimes.

Mark Thomas

Springfield

Michael Miner replies:

Three other witnesses did drop their charges, but not, from what I've read and been told, because they couldn't endure "the withering character assassination of Shanley's defense counsel." They bowed out well before the trial because of holes in their stories. Mr. Busa's fortitude is no guarantee of his testimony. Critics of recovered memory--and I do tend to respect them--point out that it's possible to believe wholeheartedly in a story that isn't true.

I spoke with three people who read Shanley's enormous church file. One of them, his niece Teresa Shanley, we'll discount. That leaves two journalists, Robin Washington, of the Duluth News Tribune (and formerly of the Boston Herald), and JoAnn Wypijewski, of Legal Affairs. Washington wrote in the News Tribune after Shanley was convicted: "Shanley's real trial was held in a hotel ballroom three years earlier, where a lawyer playing judge, jury and executioner wowed a throng of journalists and live TV audience with a Power Point presentation of voluminous church files to deem the priest as the devil incarnate. He was a founder of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, the lawyer suggested except the papers showed no evidence of that. His appetite for little boys was so uncontrollable his 'pathology (was) beyond repair,' the lawyer quoted a preeminent psychiatrist--except the doctor never met Shanley and was talking about his laziness, not abuse. He was the subject of countless complaints by parishioners for statements about adults having sex with children--except they were complaining more vociferously about his preaching tolerance for gays."

Wypijewski wrote last autumn: "So much of what is publicly known about Paul Shanley has its origin in a two-and-a-half-hour [televised] press conference that [attorney Roderick] MacLeish held in April 2002. . . . Following that press conference, it was reported that Shanley's file reveals a 30-year pattern of accusations of sexual abuse, cover-ups, and transfers from parish to parish. That they contain an admission by Shanley of rape as well as the results of a psychiatric examination showing that 'his pathology is beyond repair.' That they indicate Shanley was a founding member of the North American Man/Boy Love Association. That they show he left St. Jean's in 1989 because of sex abuse charges, and was transferred to California although the church knew he was a child molester. Those claims, repeatedly recycled, created a portrait of the priest as criminal before any legal charge was made. Not one of them is supported by documents in the file."

Shanley was convicted of child rape on the dubious basis of recovered memories that were unsupported by other evidence. His trial is the wrong occasion to champion the legal principle that so long as bad people get what they deserve, it doesn't matter how they get it.

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