Los Angeles -- The Rev. Paul Shanley, a priest whose alleged sexual misconduct over decades in Boston has inflamed the pedophilia scandal rocking the Catholic Church, was arrested in Southern California early this morning on a Massachusetts warrant that accuses him of repeatedly raping a child.
Police in San Diego took Shanley, 71, into custody without incident at his apartment and were preparing to turn him over to law enforcement officials in the Boston area, where he spent most of his career as a youth minister and parish priest -- often under suspicion for sexually abusing adolescents.
Paul Shanley, arrested
for child rape
Since the church scandal erupted earlier this year, scores of accused priests have been removed from their posts, and allegations against many have been reported to police or other civil authorities. But Shanley's case, advocates for victims of clerical abuse said today, may be the most important.
"We don't rank perpetrators of abuse -- it's all horrific," said David Clohessy, director of a national group called the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "But what makes this so significant is that it is one of the most clear cases of a cover-up and negligence by a diocese that we've ever seen."
Martha Coakley, the district attorney for Middlesex County in Massachusetts, told reporters today that Shanley is facing three counts of raping a child and that her office is investigating numerous other complaints against him.
Coakley said that Stanley's accuser in the case, now 24, has told investigators that during the 1980s the priest would remove him and other students from class for weekly private talks. "The priest would take them to one of three locations: to the bathroom, often across the street to the rectory, or to the confessional," Coakley said. "And that was where the sexual abuse would occur."
In recent months, after allegations against Shanley became public, the retired priest had slipped out of sight in San Diego, where he has lived for the past five years. Authorities in Massachusetts said they obtained a warrant for his arrest on Wednesday. Shanley has not commented on the allegations against him. His attorney, Frank Mondano, did not return calls for comment on today's arrest.
A spokeswoman for the Boston diocese, Donna Morrissey, said in a statement today that the church hopes Shanley's arrest "will bring some level of relief and contribute to the healing" to victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
Church documents released in Massachusetts earlier this year revealed that Shanley, who was ordained in 1960, has been accused of molesting boys in the Boston area for decades. The documents also detail how the Boston Archdiocese, including its leader, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, continued assigning him to parish duties that included work with children and did not warn church officials in California about the allegations when he was transferred there 12 years ago.
Shanley is one of two former Boston priests whose conduct has raised national questions about how the Catholic Church examines allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The other is John J. Geoghan, who was sentenced this spring to nine years in prison for abusing dozens of children. In each case, the church has been besieged by complaints that it did too much to protect the priests and too little to help victims of their alleged sexual abuses.
While accusations of sexual abuse have shadowed Shanley's career, documents show that church leaders chose not to dismiss him or report the allegations to police. In the 1970s, after suspicions about Shanley had already been raised, he was assigned to counsel troubled youth in Boston. Then he was transferred to a parish in Newton, Mass., and later promoted to be its pastor. By that time, according to church documents, evidence of Shanley's alleged sexual misconduct had grown. In 1990, church officials had him transferred to Southern California.
The Rev. Howard Lincoln, a spokesman for the diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., said in an interview today that Shanley had arrived with letters from the Boston diocese saying that he was priest in good standing who was taking medical leave.
Three years later, Lincoln said, the Boston diocese sent word that allegations of sexual misconduct had been made against Shanley. Church officials in San Bernardino suspended him. But his career did not end.
In 1995, Shanley was sent to New York to work as the acting director of Leo House, a hostel for students and clergy. Two years later, amid more accusations of sexual misconduct, he retired and moved to San Diego, where he worked occasionally as a volunteer for the San Diego Police Department. San Diego police said they dismissed him earlier this year after allegations against him became public.
Coakley, the Massachusetts prosecutor, said today that Shanley's accuser in the criminal case had remained silent until questions about the Catholic Church's conduct became a national issue this year.
"The young man disclosed that Shanley said to him that if he told, no one would believe him," Coakley said. "And he believed that at the time."