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Priest Abuse and Recovered Memory
By Joann Wypijewski, in: September/October, 2004, issue of Legal Affairs.
Paul Shanley, a political radical who ministered to runaways and spoke out for gay rights in the 1970s, was once known as Boston's "street priest". By 2002, he'd become "a depraved priest," according to a Boston Globe editorial. The city's largest- circulation gay paper, Bay Windows, argued in an editorial,
And after Mass one Sunday at Boston's Jesuit Urban Center, a gay man said he could never be an impartial juror in a criminal case against Shanley: "It's just too awful." Those opinions were voiced before Shanley was arrested, charged, and indicted in June 2002 for indecent assault and battery and for child rape.
Shanley, then Father Shanley, emerged as a central figure in the Catholic sexual abuse scandal from the day The Globe launched a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles about the church in January 2002. No other priest has received as much high-profile national press attention. Few others have faced trial.
When Shanley was released on $300,000 bail the following December, after seven months in jail, his lawyer used a double to divert the media frenzy. When people in Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod learned Shanley had taken up residence there, signs began appearing on lampposts, warning neighbors that a pedophile was in their midst.
Through the deft maneuvers of his personal injury lawyer, Roderick MacLeish, Jr., Gregory Ford became a poster child for priestly abuse early in the scandal. The media relentlessly replayed Ford's assertions that beginning when he was a little boy, he was pulled out of religious instruction class by Shanley, who fondled, sodomized, and otherwise sexually assaulted him in the church and rectory of St. Jean L'Evangeliste in Newton, Mass., where the priest was pastor in the 1980s. After Ford made those allegations, three other men made similar claims, all involving the classes at St. Jean's.
Like Ford, the other three said they immediately forgot being raped or abused. And like Ford, they said they recovered their memories after reading the Globe article about Shanley or with other press coverage of the priests scandal. All four sued the Boston Archdiocese for civil damages, all received monetary settlements, all had the same lawyer, and all were initially listed as victims in the criminal case.
In July , 2004, the Middlesex County District Attorney's office announced that "in order to make this the most manageable case for a jury to hear," it would not go forward with charges on behalf of Ford and one of the other men. In other words, prosecutors deemed the allegations of Shanley's headline accuser too risky or unsupportable, yet the prosecution proceeds. The Boston media barely noted this development.
Until the criminal allegations, there were no claims against Shanley involving sex with young children. Instead, there were claims of sexual encounters between the priest and adolescents or young adults during the late 1960s and '70s. Shanley himself, according to people close to him, has admitted to past "sexual misconduct."
In a January 2002 letter to friends, he explained that
Following the advice of attorneys, Shanley does not speak to the press or to the public.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
TO SOME DEGREE, THE D.A.'S DECISION IN JULY creates a new battleground. The headline victim is now Paul Busa, a classmate of Ford's at St. Jean's. But the claims of Busa and Ford, who were childhood friends, have been closely linked for two years. So Ford remains integral to the case, his story a matter for the prosecution to avoid and for the defense possibly to exploit. It's hard to imagine that charges would have been brought in the first place without Ford.
To start at the beginning, on January 31, 2002, a friend of Paula and Rodney Ford in Newton called to alert them about a long article in The Globe titled "Famed 'Street Priest' Preyed Upon Boys." The article related the story of a teenager who'd come to Father Shanley for counseling in the 1970s and was inveigled into a game of strip poker. It said that the priest abused the runaways he was thought to have helped. And it quoted a man who said he "became Paul's sex slave" at the age of 20 and sank into a depression that never lifted.
The Fords read with interest. Their son Gregory, now 27, has had a hard time in life.
The Fords told the Newton Tab that Gregory's problems had no explanation before that day in January. After reading the Globe article, Ford's father said,
The Fords showed Gregory the article with Shanley's picture. He didn't react. Then they showed him a photograph of himself receiving his First Holy Communion from Shanley, and he fell to the floor in tears. Over the next year and a half, Gregory reported a series of "flashbacks," recovered memories of abusive and violent incidents, numbering more than 70, most of which involved strip poker and anal penetration.
In depositions taken for the civil case brought by Ford against the Boston Archdiocese for failing to protect him from Shanley, Gregory Ford testified that he buried the memory of each attack, and thus approached each new encounter with the priest as if it were the first, without fear. At the time this began, Ford would have been 6; Shanley, 52.
The day after Ford's epiphany, Paul Busa, also 27 and then a military police officer at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, got a call from his girlfriend telling him about the Globe article. The girlfriend called Busa again 10 days later to tell him that Ford had recovered memories of abuse.
According to papers filed in his civil case, Busa's memories "began flooding back." He called Ford, who by then had retained MacLeish, a Boston lawyer who has represented more than 200 alleged victims in the latest public scandal and who earlier negotiated dozens of secret settlements with the church. A few days later Busa was flying to Boston, his ticket paid for by MacLeish. By March, Busa had retained the lawyer.
At MacLeish's suggestion, Busa consulted two psychiatrists who had also talked to Ford. Back at Peterson, another psychiatrist had encouraged Busa to keep a journal, his "emotional barf bag," in which he reconstructed his memories, backdating them to February 1, 2002, the day he heard about the Globe story. He was discharged from the Air Force that April, and now works for the Newton fire department.
Busa and Ford were joined in their allegations by Anthony Driscoll, another childhood friend and classmate, also 27. He asserted that while flying to Las Vegas to gamble, he experienced "severe flashbacks" of rape and other indecencies by the priest. Driscoll met with Ford and MacLeish in March 2002 and spoke with Busa at about the same time. He reportedly did not say then that he thought he'd been abused. He did, however, ask MacLeish to recommend a psychiatrist, and subsequently met with the same doctors seen by Busa and Ford. That April, MacLeish filed a civil complaint for him. In July, the prosecution dropped Driscoll along with Ford from the case against Shanley.
The remaining victim in the criminal case, now 34, has requested anonymity. His civil complaint never underwent discovery and little is known about him, except that he has a history of incarceration and drug and alcohol abuse. He claims to have been abused by Shanley in the early 1980s and to have recovered his memories in 2001, after reading a newspaper article about another accused priest.
He did not make a civil or criminal complaint until 2002, after Ford came forward, and after he himself had retained MacLeish. According to Shanley's defense counsel, Frank Mondano, the man's first memory is dated to the day that it would be admissible under the state's six-year statute of limitations. That day was a Tuesday, when CCD (as these Catholic religious classes are called) never met.
For Busa and Ford, the memories of abuse are nearly identical. Both say Father Shanley regularly pulled them out of CCD, sometimes as often as every week, between 1983 and 1989. All of the criminal activity would have occurred before the 10 o'clock Sunday Mass.
Until Gregory Ford came forward, none of the thousands of children who attended CCD at St. Jean's while Shanley was pastor reported anything untoward. No one is on record at the time as having noticed anything unusual involving the boys and Shanley. Not their parents. Not the several women who taught the classes, including Ford's mother. Not Verona Mazzei, the woman who supervised the program.
After Ford made his accusations, Mazzei told reporters she could not confirm his account of the priest's continual class disruption. By the time of the indictment, she said she'd been advised by lawyers not to comment; her position was compromised because Paul Busa was her daughter's fiancÚ. The couple married this summer.
Dissociated or repressed memory
The accusations against Shanley rely on a psychological theory called dissociated or repressed memory. It holds that the mind can submerge the most traumatic memories in some walled-off place, where they remain unaltered and retrievable in exact detail by a triggering event or therapy. The idea comes from Freud's early work, and is one which he ultimately rejected.
It was reformulated in some feminist psychotherapeutic circles beginning in the 1970s, and reached its apex in the 1980s and early '90s, when children, prodded by therapists, began reciting "memories" of satanic ritual abuses committed at their day care centers. Many people went to prison as a result of those stories. Most of those convictions have since been reversed; others continue to be fought. Yet the theory persists. Daniel Brown, a psychotherapist who testified to the grand jury in Shanley's case, argues that
Other experts, however, reject the notion that highly traumatic memories can be spontaneously repressed and recovered.
One of Ford's first therapists, Robert Azrak, testified in a deposition that "there is no scientific basis" for the type of recovered memories described in this case. As Richard McNally, a clinical and experimental psychologist at Harvard and the author of Remembering Trauma, pointed out,
Remembering trauma, McNally said,
That was as true for cavemen as it is for the contemporary child who, once burned, learns to avoid a hot stove.
In a series of experiments involving people who claimed to have recovered memories of alien abduction - a patently false memory - McNally and colleagues found that their subjects remembered things actually presented to them as well as the control group did, but that the subjects had far higher rates of false recall and recognition. The responses of the self-described alien abductees mirror the responses from separate studies that the researchers conducted involving people who reported recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse.
The tricks of memory and imagination are illustrated by a trauma that Gregory Ford indisputably experienced at CCD. When Ford was 11, Driscoll held a sharpened pencil upright on Ford's chair as a joke. Ford sat down on it and howled in pain, and, according to accounts at the time, there was blood. Verona Mazzei called Ford's mother, who hurried to the church and took her son to an emergency room. Doctors treated Gregory for a puncture wound to the buttock. They found no injury to the anus nor anything indicative of sexual abuse, according to medical records cited by the defense in Ford's civil case. Shanley does not figure in the story.
Driscoll, Busa, and Ford never forgot the essential features of that incident. Driscoll said he lives with guilt for hurting Ford. In Ford's recovered memories, however, the pencil incident prompted Shanley to arrive on the scene and resulted not in a puncture wound but in the rape of Ford and an anal laceration. This version of events has been repeated by Ford's parents and lawyer. It was, according to Busa, the subject of the first conversation he had with Ford, by phone in February 2002, after he heard of his friend's recovered memories.
In 2002 MacLeish argued that Ford hadn't buried every memory of abuse; occasionally a shard would surface, as when, at 19 and juiced on steroids, he cried out, "I was raped!"
However, Gregory's sister, Kathryn, testified in a deposition that a neighbor witnessing the outburst had told her that her brother "specifically said 'my father raped me.' " Kathryn was firm in her recollection, especially, she said, because the claim was so shocking and "impossible." In 2003, when the neighbor contradicted her in the press, Kathryn recanted. Now everyone's memory is synchronized that Gregory screamed at his father, "How would you like it if you were fucking raped?" before being taken off to an institution.
There the story took another twist. A doctor noted,
Doctors considered this a major breakthrough and, according to court documents, Gregory's parents instantly suspected one adult. But then Mr. Ford interviewed his son, and the family concluded it was all a misunderstanding, and that Gregory had been talking about sexual games, strip poker, with other boys. This is now the family narrative, though the doctors assert there was no confusion, and the playmates say they have no memory of strip poker, according to depositions cited by the defense in the civil case.
In light of such contradictions and the difficulties Ford's medical history could cause on the witness stand, the prosecution dropped him as an accuser. For the same reasons, in 2003, lawyers who represented the church against Ford's civil claims prepared a defense.
According to a pretrial memorandum, they planned to argue that Ford and the other plaintiffs could not prove
The recovered memories were not believable, the memorandum states, and were unsupported by corroborating evidence.
Yet in April of 2004, Archbishop Sean O'Malley, in the ninth month of his assignment to lead the Boston church beyond its devastating scandal, made cash settlements with Ford Busa, and Driscoll. Although the amounts were not disclosed, The Globe reported that Ford got over $1.4 million, the largest known payout to an alleged victim in the Boston area. In May, O'Malley sent two priests to ask Shanley to resign from the priesthood. Shanley, near tears, refused. Days later, the archdiocese defrocked him. Where previously the church had held itself above the law, now it was saying that defense is not an option.
SO MUCH OF WHAT IS PUBLICLY KNOWN ABOUT PAUL SHANLEY has its origin in a two-and-a-half-hour press conference that MacLeish held in April 2002. That event, televised live in Boston, showcased Ford's recovered memories and featured, as evidence of the priest's moral corruption, a PowerPoint presentation of strategically edited excerpts from a 1,600-page personnel file that the archdiocese had kept on Shanley, and that it released only after MacLeish and the press sued for access.
Following that press conference, it was reported
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.
The documents do contain one allegation later determined to be by a 16-year-old in 1966, which Shanley forcefully denied and which was not pursued further at the time. There are also four allegations involving male teenagers, dating back about 25 years, which were made in 1993-94. By then Shanley, finished with parish work, was nearing retirement. One March 1994 document appears to be notes taken by a church official of a conversation with a staff member from the Institute of Living, a clinic in Connecticut where Shanley was sent for evaluation after the 1993-94 allegations.
In the notes, Shanley is said to have admitted to the "substance of complaints-sexual activity w/ 4 adolescent males and w/ men and women" going back many years. The archdiocese settled those claims by 1998. Shanley never admitted to the version of events in the settlements; other allegations arose subsequently.
The Sixties & Seventies
The bulk of Shanley's file chronicles the progress of his life of controversy during one of the most tumultuous periods in American history. He had been ordained in Boston in 1960, at 29, and spent his first few years in parish work. By the late 1960s, as tens of thousands of runaways began converging on the city, he took up a roving ministry to youth. It would be his official assignment until 1979.
He held folk Masses in a storefront, grew long hair and sideburns, and shed his black suit and Roman collar for jeans and a coarse shirt. Photographs of him disclose an ambiguously rakish figure, part hippie, part nerd. He is said to have had tremendous charm.
In those years Shanley was surrounded by teenagers, male and female, sometimes up to 30 "cases" in 30 minutes by his account. He began his workday at 6 or 7 p.m., touring the Boston Common, the red-light Combat Zone, and the city's squares and subway stations into the small hours of the morning, finding kids lost, strung out, raped, pregnant, suicidal, entrapped by vice cops, or en route to one of those horrors.
With Sister Barbara Whelan, he fitted out a Winnebago and started Bridge Over Troubled Waters, a mobile clinic providing free, confidential treatment for venereal disease and other ailments to street people. He was accused of abetting delinquency.
The kids had come to Boston as part of the great youth rebellion - after the Summer of Love, after Woodstock, after the Stonewall riot in Greenwich Village marked the beginning of the modern gay movement. The drinking age was 18 then, and bars were thick with young teens passing fake IDs and grinding to songs from Sticky Fingers. In the Fenway, police were entrapping, arresting, and beating gays, but in underground bookshops the magazine Fag Rag proclaimed "Cocksucking as an Act of Revolution."
The Vietnam War was over, almost. It had come home in the form of drugs and broken vets, a generation turning to spiritualism and mystic cults. In the Catholic Church priests were leaving the collar for love. Others stayed in, questioning everything. "Social sin," the U.S. bishops wrote in 1973, applies to
Meanwhile in South Boston, white Catholic gangs were stoning black children. And at the headquarters of the archdiocese, Father Shanley's personnel file was growing fat with letters of condemnation and a few of praise. The spirit of Vatican II had unleashed forces of both liberation and reaction. The clash would be greatest over sex.
Shanley's file is rife with sex, in the form of his words and reported words on the subject. In the civil complaints he filed, MacLeish filled gaps where evidence of criminal action was lacking by stressing Shanley's "deviant beliefs." Because of what Shanley had said, MacLeish argued, the church should have known what he had done. For example, a woman who attended a 1977 lecture by Shanley noted in a letter,
Shanley himself, as disclosed in the file, had written,
Whichever statement better represents Shanley, neither proves what he might have done.
By 1973, Shanley was offering a "ministry to sexual minorities." Gay Community News printed his phone number every week with the notice:
To review the archives of GCN and Fag Rag now is to witness a community putting itself together. Along with politics and current events, sex, including intergenerational sex, was discussed regularly and without restraint. "For me it was the Golden Age," says John Mitzel, a writer who worked on both papers and now owns a gay bookstore in Boston. At 17 he had run away from his Cincinnati home, where his mother had mistaken homosexual precocity for mental illness.
In Boston, the grittier edge of such transactions was to be found at hustling grounds like Park Square and bars like The Other Side, where a man who calls himself Wayne Hay worked from 1974 to 1977.
Amid the nightly gossip, Hay says, he never heard anyone complain or even talk about sex with Paul Shanley.
By 1977 anyone wanting to report molestation could call an anonymous tip into a hotline instituted by the Boston D.A. Innuendo poured in about hundreds of gay men. It was a year of panic that set the stage for Shanley to articulate his most "deviant belief." In nearby Revere, a police dragnet implicated 25 men and 64 youths in an alleged sex ring. Police detained the young people, or enlisted psychiatrists and priests, to coerce them into cooperating.
A group called the Boston/Boise Committee was formed to defend civil liberties. Ultimately none of the men did time, and the district attorney responsible for the scandal was swept from office. Afterward, the committee held a conference to discuss sex between men and teenage boys. Shanley was among the clerics, ethicists, lawyers, activists, and psychologists invited to speak. He told the story of a gay teenager, rejected by his family, who took up with an older man. When the boy's parents found out, they called the police and the man was imprisoned.
At his 2002 PowerPoint show, MacLeish projected a sentence from a 1979 account from Gaysweek that read,
The suggestion or assertion that Shanley was among the 32 has been repeated in the press many times since. But Shanley wasn't part of that group, say a Catholic priest and Protestant minister who were.
AND YET SHANLEY MAY WELL HAVE SEDUCED TEENAGERS. In the civil cases against the archdiocese, MacLeish gathered affidavits from 19 men who say the priest used them sexually when they were young. The statements were meant to demonstrate that the recovered memories of Ford and the others were consistent with Shanley's sexual modus operandi. The D.A.'s office has reportedly entered those affidavits in the criminal case against Shanley for the same dicey purpose. Their admissibility will no doubt be challenged by the defense.
Taken together, the affidavits present an alarming picture of a priest obsessed with sex, one who exploited school settings or counseling sessions to make conquests. Individually, many lack credibility; all are untested; and some raise an issue studiously avoided since the scandal broke: teenage consent.
The standard argument is that the priest was in a position of power; there could be no consent. On the strength of that claim, even men who say they had sex with Shanley while in their 20s have won financial settlements from the church.
Yet repeatedly in the affidavits, the teenager faces a choice: to go away for the weekend with the priest after being propositioned, to climb into his bed naked, to travel alone to another state to visit him, or stay with him another night, or return for counseling, all after allegedly being molested or raped. Repeatedly, the teenager chooses the priest.
In one affidavit, a 14- year-old comes to Shanley to talk about his worries; there is a full-body massage and a sleepover. He returns another time and there is a candlelight bath, Gregorian chants on the stereo, and the priest performs oral sex. Five times in six months the teenager comes to see the priest and they have sex; they stay in contact for years. Walking with the priest on the street, the accuser says,
In another affidavit Shanley is said to advise that if a 16-year-old ever finds himself tempted by girls and in need of sexual relief, the priest will offer himself up as the "lesser of two evils." Later Shanley invites the youth to a cabin in the Blue Hills outside Boston, and he accepts. That night, he says, the priest
If Shanley did make the "lesser evil" proposition, it was clearly manipulative. It was also a seduction, to which the 16-year-old was capable of consenting, and, by his own account, did.
Regrets don't negate the choice. At the same time, the seduction wouldn't have been a good idea even if the kid had come home happy. A priest's authority, like that of a professor or psychiatrist (some of whom were regularly having sex with students and patients during that period), further complicates the already complicated emotions around sex.
Many of Shanley's accusers came from violent, sometimes extremely violent, homes, which may have made them more vulnerable and made things more complicated still. But complexity has been a casualty of the Shanley story as told, from all sides.
Shanley says every encounter was a willing encounter; his accusers say every encounter was abuse. Perhaps it was something in between, and both are deceiving themselves, as people often do about sex, revising events in a way that puts their own actions in an acceptable light. Perhaps, given the evasions of memory, the lure of money, or self-justification, neither accused nor accusers even know the truth anymore.
However outrageous Shanley's actions with teens and young adults seem today, they belong to their time.
IN HIS JANUARY 2002 LETTER TO LOVED ONES, Shanley confessed:
It is revealing that Shanley, who fought so publicly for gay rights, has never actually come out to his family members. Reviewing his personal scrapbook, which they let me see, I was struck by the little markers of "difference" that would have gone unnoticed before gay liberation gave them meaning: pictures of him as a teenage camp counselor, with rarely a girl in sight; sensitive shots of sensitive boys his own age, neatly dressed, hands on hips; here a quote from Oscar Wilde, there a photo of Rock Hudson, and, before long, a procession of men in black cassocks.
Why did Shanley stay in the priesthood once there were more options and some safety for gay men? His best friend, the late Father Jack White
said it was a calling that kept Shanley going, a confidence
But Shanley was also on the older edge of a generation that saw the transfiguration of homosexuality from something sick to something people claimed with pride. As Shanley noted in one of his lectures, before Stonewall, only in the priesthood could a gay man with no particular courage escape the prying questions, the life of whispering, and be admired. And only in the priesthood could a young man be transformed overnight from novice to sage. The dislocations accompanying that transition, the sudden investment of authority and expectation of purity, must have cut two ways for a young man both aflame with Catholic idealism and weighted with a sexual secret. Shanley was a closet case in a closet culture, weak and powerful at the same time.
In one of his writings, part of the more than 150 pages of his file that constitute a politico-social memoir of the 1970s, there is a haunting entry:
Jurors in Boston won't have to judge the whole narrative of Shanley's life. They will have to decide whether the state has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he raped and molested little boys over a period of many years while nobody noticed.
Because the whole case hangs on his accusers' recovered memories, the narrative of their lives will be up for grabs. If they are not believed, the foundation upon which they have constructed their present stories of themselves may be rocked. And whatever the jury's verdict, the accusers have to live with the horror of what they may now believe their memories to be. For Gregory Ford there is already no vindication, as there is none for the defense; Ford's claims will never be more, or less, than that.
As for Shanley, should he lose, any sentence is likely to be a life sentence, given his age. His silence, for a man whose life was distinguished by rebellion, indicates how much he has already lost.
Shanley's defeat came long before his name was made tinder for scandal. When he decided to resign his pastorship at St. Jean's in November 1989, by his account because he could not take an oath committing pastors to give "internal assent" to the Pope's position on any issue, his lifetime of loyal opposition and prophetic witness was finished.
As he wrote then to the cardinal:
From there, his archdiocesan file traces his decline - ailing, without a mission, estranged from the family of the church, full of doubt and disappointment though not without a brittle humor, finally accused.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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