The upcoming release of Paul Shanley, defrocked priest and convicted child-rapist, is an appalling reminder of the injustice suffered by survivors of clergy abuse. After spending 12 years in prison, Shanley will have, in the words of his lawyer, “served his time.” As for the survivors who were molested by Shanley, they will have to live with the damage he caused for the rest of their lives.
Shanley, who is now 86-years-old, was convicted in 2005 for repeatedly fondling and raping a boy in the 1980s. The abuse took place at St. Jean’s Church in Newton, Massachusetts over several years, beginning when the child was six-years-old. One of the first priests prosecuted after the widespread clergy abuse scandal erupted in Boston in the early 2000s, Shanley’s trial finally brought his misdeeds out into the light.
The Catholic Church had been aware of his poisonous behavior and instead of disclosing it, decided to cover it up. The pure evil of this decision was evidenced as investigators and reporters uncovered the massive scope of Shanley’s crimes.
Recorded in letters from parents and other church officials, there were dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct with minors over decades. Like so many other sick priests, the church moved Shanley from town to town, enabling his continued criminal behavior.
Eventually, Shanley was moved from Massachusetts to California, where the Church had even less knowledge of what the unforgivable villain was doing. According to the New York Times, Shanley soon became the co-owner of a “gay hotel” along with another priest in California. Somehow unbeknownst to his superiors, the deceptive predator used church funds to purchase the Cabana Club in Palm Springs. In 2008, Shanley settled a lawsuit involving allegations that he had molested a boy at his club.
Survivors Disagree With Shanley Walking Free
Because of the man’s perverted history, Middlesex County prosecutors wanted to keep Shanley behind bars after he completed his sentence. Unfortunately, according to District Attorney Marian Ryan, the psychiatric experts her office hired to evaluate Shanley said he does not meet the legal criteria for civil confinement as a sexually dangerous person.
This is zero comfort for survivors and their families. In a statement, the Survivor Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) argued predator priests like Shanley are still a danger to their community:
“While we understand and respect the American judicial system, we fear for the safety of children now that Shanley has been released.
Research and experience teach us that age does not cure pedophilia. Often age gives predators an advantage. People may see an old man and assume he is harmless. That is not the case.”
Shanley was 74-years-old when he was convicted, and SNAP is right to conclude that there is no “safe age” at which a convicted pedophile becomes harmless.
But many of Shanley’s crimes occurred decades before his conviction. As awful as it is to see an elderly Shanley go free, it’s terrifying to think the law would have let a much younger Shanley go if he had been caught when the crimes happened.
Is There ‘Justice’ for Survivors in a Broken System?
The Archdiocese of Boston released a statement on July 25, saying:
“Paul Shanley’s crimes against children were reprehensible. No young person should ever have to experience such violations of their safety and dignity.”
Condemning Shanley’s actions with words is only meaningful, however, if they lead to action. Regrettably, the rotten culture of secrecy that protected predator priests like Shanley continues to thrive to this day. What the church says publicly and what it says behind closed doors, are all too often different things.
The way the Catholic Church handled and continues to handle clergy abuse is unacceptable: predator priests are protected and innocent children are put at risk. Time and time again, the church has proven it will not police its own. Once a priest is convicted as a pedophile in a United States Court, however, one would think justice would be swift and complete.
After his release, Shanley has been ordered to have no contact with children under the age of 16 and will be monitored for 10 years by the state Probation Department. Is this justice? Is the punishment not minuscule in comparison to the decades of damage caused by the man once known as Father Shanley? And where is the punishment for those who enabled pedophilia to continue by covering up the crimes of the hundreds of other priests just like Shanley?
The predator has served his sentence and will now walk free. Instead of justice, the conclusion of Shanley’s sentence is a clear sign that the system is broken. For survivors and their families, an awful chapter that should have been closed decades ago is once again an open wound.