CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – A judge sentenced Paul Shanley on Tuesday to 12 to 15 years in prison for child rape, condemning the defrocked priest for using his revered status to prey on a vulnerable little boy.
Shanley, one of the most notorious figures in the Boston Archdiocese’s clergy sex abuse scandal, was convicted last week of repeatedly raping and fondling the boy at suburban parish in the 1980s, beginning when he was 6 years old.
The sentencing was seen as an important milestone by victims who packed the courtroom to watch the once-popular priest receive his punishment. As a wobbly Shanley was led from the courtroom in handcuffs, many in the audience burst into applause and one man called out “Goodbye.”
Judge Stephen Neel said Shanley used his position as a priest to gain the trust of his victim.
“It is difficult to imagine a more egregious misuse of trust and authority,” he said.
Shanley, 74, once known for a being a hip “street priest” who reached out to troubled children and homosexuals, will be eligible for parole after eight years. He was also sentenced to 10 years’ probation.
“He used his collar and he used his worshipped status in that community,” said prosecutor Lynn Rooney, who asked for a life sentence. “There has been no remorse shown on the part of this defendant. There has been no acceptance of responsibility.”
Shanley’s lawyer, Frank Mondano, said the prosecution’s case was built on “vilification, half-truths and lies.”
“This process … is one that has been profoundly distorted by emotion,” said Mondano, who did not make a specific sentencing recommendation.
Shanley’s accuser, now a 27-year-old firefighter in suburban Boston, said the former priest would pull him from Sunday morning catechism classes and rape and fondle him at St. Jean’s parish in Newton.
The case hinged on the reliability of the victim’s memories of the abuse, which he said he recovered several years ago as the clergy sex abuse scandal unfolded in the media.
“I want him to die in prison, whether it’s of natural causes or otherwise. However he dies, I hope it’s slow and painful,” the man said in a victim impact statement read in court by Rooney.
His father told Shanley: “You robbed my little boy of his innocence. You destroyed his understanding of good and bad and right and wrong.”
District Attorney Martha Coakley said afterward that the victim was disappointed with the sentence. “I think he very much wanted to hear the word ‘life,”’ Coakley said.
But Coakley said the man also understands that given Shanley’s age, “as a practical matter, the sentence imposed today will be life.”
She said if Shanley is released on parole, prosecutors would seek to have him civilly committed for the rest of his life under the state’s sexually dangerous persons law.
During the trial, the victim man broke down and sobbed on the witness stand as he described in graphic detail being abused by Shanley in the church bathroom, rectory, confessional and pews.
“He told me nobody would ever believe me if I told anybody,” he testified.
Mondano asked Neel to allow Shanley to serve his sentence in the less-violent county lockup, rather than in state prison, but the judge turned down the request. Another notorious pedophile priest, John Geoghan, was killed in a state prison, allegedly by a fellow inmate.
Victims of abusive priests and their advocates were happy with the sentence.
“The important thing is that he’s off the streets,” said David Clohessy, 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.”
Shanley worked with Boston’s troubled youth in the 1960s and ’70s. Even then, allegations began surfacing about sexual contact with some of the young boys he was supposed to be helping.
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 and charged with raping four boys at St. Jean’s. All four claimed they recovered memories of the abuse after the scandal broke.
But the case ran into numerous problems. In July, prosecutors dropped two accusers in what they said was a move to strengthen their case. Then, on the day jury selection began, they dropped a third accuser because he disappeared after a traumatic experience on the witness stand at a pretrial hearing last fall.
The clergy abuse scandal began in early 2002 when Cardinal Bernard Law acknowledged he shuffled Geoghan from parish to parish despite evidence the priest had molested children.
It intensified later in 2002 when the church released Shanley’s 800-page personnel file. He argued for acceptance of homosexuality and pushed for gay rights – a violation of church teachings. He called himself a “sexual expert” and advertised his counseling services in the alternative press.
He resigned from parish work in 1989 and moved to California. At the time, Law, who resigned as archbishop in December 2002 at the height of the scandal, praised his “impressive record.” Boston church officials recommended him for a job in the Diocese of San Bernardino as a priest in “good standing.”