Monday, February 7, 2005

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Defrocked priest Paul Shanley, the most notorious figure in the sex scandal that rocked the Boston Archdiocese, was convicted yesterday of repeatedly raping and fondling a boy at his Roman Catholic Church during the 1980s.

The conviction on all four charges gives prosecutors a high-profile victory in their effort to bring pedophile priests to justice for decades of abuse at parishes nationwide, though most priests accused of wrongdoing have avoided prosecution because of the statute of limitations.

Shanley, 74, could get life in prison for two counts each of child rape and indecent assault and battery on a child when he is sentenced next Tuesday. His bail was revoked and he was led off to jail.

The victim, now 27, put his head down and sobbed as the verdicts were announced after a trial that turned on the reliability of what he said were recovered memories of the long-ago abuse. Shanley showed no emotion as he stood next to his attorneys.

The jury deliberated 13 hours over three days.

During the trial, the accuser broke down on the stand as he testified in graphic detail that Shanley pulled him out of Sunday morning catechism classes and raped and groped him in the church bathroom, the rectory, the confessional and the pews starting when he was 6.

“It felt awful,” he testified. “He told me nobody would ever believe me if I told anybody.”

The accuser, now a firefighter in suburban Boston, said he had repressed his memories of the abuse but that they came flooding back three years ago, triggered by news coverage of the scandal that began in Boston and soon engulfed the church worldwide.

Shanley, once a long-haired, jeans-wearing “street priest” who worked with Boston’s troubled youth, sat stoically for most of the trial, listening to his accuser’s testimony with the help of a hearing aid.

The defense called just one witness — a psychologist who said so-called recovered memories can be false, even if the accuser ardently believes they are true. The defense argued that the accuser was either mistaken or had concocted the story with the help of personal-injury lawyers to cash in on a multimillion-dollar settlement resulting from the sex scandal.

But prosecutors said the accuser had no financial motivation in accusing Shanley of rape in the criminal case because he had received his $500,000 settlement with the archdiocese nearly a year ago.

Juror Victoria Blier said that fact was a key element in the verdict.

“I think that people believed that the core of what the victim claimed was true, and I think a pervasive sentiment was he had already gotten a half-million-dollar settlement,” she said. “He knew that pursuing the criminal case was going to lay a painful life bare.”

Rodney Ford, whose son Greg was one of three accusers dropped from the case, called the verdict “a relief for my son, and all the other victims.”

“The validation that all the victims of Paul Shanley must feel today must be unbelievable,” Mr. Ford said.

Shanley’s niece disagreed.

“There are no winners today. There are only losers,” Teresa Shanley said as her uncle was led from the courtroom. “We’re no closer to finding out the truth about this scandal or finding out what happened.”

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