The Terrible Case of Paul Shanley

Paul Shanley was mentioned in this morning’s post, so I thought I’d provide some background. If you’re not familiar, he’s one of the worst, and most notorious of the predator priests, and was active in Boston under Cardinal Law. He was (and it is “was,” he’s been defrocked) a heretical priest who preferred jeans to cassocks (or even clerical collars), and openly advocated for both adult homosexuality and man-boy sex. He was praised for his strong stances against traditional morality throughout Boston, and at least two powerful Cardinals (Cushing, and later Law) were too cowardly to take him on… even going so far as to let him run a “street ministry” for homosexual teens, who he molested scores of. Even after the man was revealed as a disgrace to the Church and to civilization, the most the Boston Globe could muster was that he was “part hero, part horror.” The article recounts:

Some noticed the pattern early on. Randall Lee Gibson, the former minister of the Charles Street Meeting House on Beacon Hill, which ran an outreach program for gay youths in the 1970s and was a popular gay meeting place, says he often noticed Shanley with young men. He says he knew Shanley was a supporter of the North American Man/Boy Love Association, which advocated sex between men and boys, because ”I asked him,” said Gibson, now 75 and retired in Orange. ”He said, `Yes, I am aware of it, and I support that activity.’ It came to me as kind of a shock that he was as active as he was.”

Gibson, whose Unitarian Universalist church closed its doors in 1978, says he did not inform authorities because he didn’t know enough about Shanley’s beliefs or behavior. But Noble, the former legislator, says she did. Noble, who was also a highly visible gay figure in the 1970s, said that not only was it ” common knowledge in the community that Paul liked young men,” but a number of young boys she knew told her about it in detail. She was also suspicious of what she saw. One day in 1978, Noble says, she was riding in an elevator in a downtown apartment building when Shanley came on the elevator with a young boy, both of them apparently fresh out of the shower. She later said to Shanley, ”You know, Paul, I’m surprised the cardinal hasn’t done something about you. And he said, `No one can touch me.’ And he was right.”

Noble says she took her concerns about Shanley to the Boston police; to Katharine Kane, then a deputy mayor; and to several priests who are now dead. Kane, now retired, said she ”never heard of Shanley until now.” And when leaders in the gay community heard what Noble had done, she said, ”I got holy hell. People in my own community just didn’t want to believe it. The truth is that people were afraid of Shanley. … No one could shut down Paul Shanley.”

And Shanley gloried in it. Prophet, rescuer, visionary, he seemed to see himself as wielding great power in a universe of lesser mortals.

There’s a cycle here, where the fact that Shanley rejected Catholic teachings actually made him less likely to be removed from the priesthood. Here’s what we’re dealing with:

  1. An incredible narcissist who viewed himself as a Christ figure. (For example, on page 2, of this – one of his insane Church bulletin ramblings, when he compares himself in section (7) to Christ numerous times, because they’re both “controversial”). His intense arrogance allows him to decide for himself which Church teachings are right (he describes himself, on that same page above, as the man in charge of implementing Vatican II and making sure theology lines up with science), and which ones should be subordinated to his own will. His narcissism also tells him that he’s entitled to sex with whomever he wants.
  2. As a result of #1: A dissident priest, who doesn’t wear clerical garb, preaches that homosexual and man-boy sex is good (that is, preaches the opposite of the Church’s teachings), cozies up to Unitarian Universalists, openly advocates for NAMBLA, and was active in the gay community. In other words, he’s not exactly the image of how the Catholic Church says Her priests should behave. He doesn’t even pretend to be an orthodox Catholic priest.
  3. As a result of #2: Shanley is loved by the media (the Globe particularly) and the gay community, as well as the hyper-liberal Protestants and Unitarians, for being willing to be “open-minded” and free-thinking and liberal about Catholic morality. That’s the “part hero” bit that the Globe talked about.
  4. As a result of #3: Shanley’s bishop, Bernard Cardinal Law, is too spineless to make a move to curb in his excesses. Law was more worried about how the Catholic Church (and particularly Bernard Cardinal Law) would look on the front page of the Globe than about what was actually going on. Even when it becomes incredibly clear that Shanley is raping children, his powerful patrons both within the Church and within the Boston gay community back him up, and those in a position to do something to stop him: the Cardinal, the deputy mayor, the police are left shaking in their boots, afraid to make the tough calls.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing, right? And good people have a strong incentive to do nothing when they’re more worried about the anti-Catholic Globe reporter than Jesus Christ at Final Judgment.


So to tie that in with the themes of the last two posts, we’re looking both at (a) a homosexual male who had sex with both adult men [he’s the middle guy in the picture on the right, at a “gay skating night” in 1979] and even co-owned a gay motel in Palm Springs called the Cabana Club; (b) a man who had sex with exclusively male children at least as young as 12; and (c) a graduate of the notorious St. John’s Seminary in Brighton MA, class of 1960.

The picture below is important:

The three men circled on the right are Frs. Joseph E. Birmingham, Bernard J. Lane, and Eugene M. O’Sullivan, all of whom have been accused of sexual abuse as well. The man circled in the back and center is Shanley, and the priest circled on the left is the future Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire, John McCormack. McCormack protected not only Shanley but a number of other sexual predators, lying to victims and other priests. McCormack’s involvement actually ties into a third strand which I mentioned in passing this morning: blackmail.

In a letter to then-Fr. McCormack, Shanley rages at the Archdiocese’s decision not to pay for allergy medication for him, and threatens to cause a media frenzy if they don’t send money:

“The only stress I have now, apart from what I’ve mentioned, is not knowing what will become of me. I would have to explain to my parishioners what has happened and that would precipitate the media whirlwind. I think the best for all concerned is medical retirement and let me do weekend supply.”

For an Archdiocese for whom the Boston Globe‘s approval was the end-all, be-all, they were easily lead around by popular-and-manipulative abusers like Shanley.

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