The Shanley debate

The major dailies published appropriately subdued stories earlier this week about the conviction of the Rev. Paul Shanley on charges of raping a Sunday-school student during the 1980s. These paragraphs by Pam Belluck of The New York Times cover the details mentioned in most other stories:

As the verdict was read, Mr. Shanley stood straight and betrayed little emotion. His accuser, who spoke publicly about his accusations over the last three years but asked news organizations not to name him during the trial, stood in the first row, rocking back and forth with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face.

Now a 27-year-old firefighter, the accuser testified that Mr. Shanley would pull him out of Christian doctrine class beginning when he was 6 years old, and would orally and digitally rape him in the bathroom, the pews, the confessional and the rectory of St. Jean's Parish in Newton.

Mr. Shanley's lawyer, Frank Mondano, had argued that what Mr. Shanley was accused of was logistically impossible given the layout and crowded nature of the church on Sunday mornings. Mr. Mondano also argued that the accuser had concocted the charges in order to prevail in his civil suit against the church.

Shanley's conviction made me aware of an amazing package of articles I missed when they appeared in the Jan. 14 edition of the National Catholic Reporter. The Reporter published an essay by Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry, who worked with Shanley in the early years of gay activism within American Catholicism.

Gramick confesses that she was nervous about seeing Shanley again after nearly 20 years, then describes how some of her anxieties diminished:

My anxiety was somewhat allayed as I lunched with Terry [Shanley's niece] in the mall near the county jail. She believes her uncle, who has been like a father to her, is innocent. The four individuals who have brought indictments against Paul all base their claims on repressed memories, a concept regarded with skepticism by leading mental health professionals. Terry believes there is not sufficient evidence to convict her uncle. Furthermore, her uncle told her he had never raped a child or forced anyone to engage in sexual acts, and he would not lie to her. If he were guilty, would he have given himself up to the district attorney's office?

Both Gramick and David France, in his article "The jury should still be out on Paul Shanley," object to media reports that describe Shanley as helping to found the North American Man-Boy Love Association.

Gramick writes:

The allegation is based on a 1978 article, which reported that Paul spoke at a conference about the legal aspects of sex between men and teenage boys. The conference was not a meeting of the association, which did not exist at the time. Paul was only one of many speakers, including lawyers, psychologists, ethicists and activists. The article did not state that Paul advocated man-boy sexual relations. In fact, his file contains written testimony to the contrary. He does not condone the sexual seduction of children. After the conference, some participants decided to form a Man-Boy Love Association at a caucus Paul did not attend.

And France writes:

So why is he called the most serious pedophile priest ever to surface in the crisis? Partly because of his alleged NAMBLA link, but in fact, he was never a member of NAMBLA, nor did he ever attend a NAMBLA meeting. His crime was to attend -- along with other clergy -- a conference from which a caucus spun into the North American Man/Boy Love Association. He appeared, in fact, to idealize men just barely over the consent age -- and, if they were vulnerable enough, to take advantage of them.

Shanley was a hero [for his gay-rights activism] and a predator, but perhaps not a criminal. That is the unusual set of facts we know so far.

Maureen Orth, who wrote a profile of Shanley in the June 2002 Vanity Fair, takes apart Gramick's essay:

Sr. Jeannine Gramick obviously has never read the 1,600-plus pages of the Boston archdiocese's file on Paul Shanley. I have. Had she done so before taking up his cause, she would have seen that there were complaints about Shanley's inappropriate behavior toward minor boys going back nearly 40 years and that the diocesan-appointed psychiatrist who finally examined him in 1994 concluded, "Fr. Shanley is so personally damaged that his pathology is beyond repair."

. . . Sr. Jeannine mentions that it is a tragedy that so much money the church could be spending for the poor instead has to go to paying off victims. I agree it would be ideal to spend the money in other ways, but where was the hierarchy's vigilance and concern that should have occurred throughout the years but did not? Where was its moral center? The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that when someone commits a transgression against another, justice requires that the harm be repaired and the injuries be compensated. For someone like Sr. Jeannine to make fatuous statements about Paul Shanley's presumed innocence without a real knowledge of his actions -- or of the church's doing absolutely nothing to stop him for over four decades -- is not only sad, it is shocking. Her charity is glaringly misplaced.

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