More Than Just A Trial
The trail of Paul Shanley, who was at the epicenter of the clergy sex
scandal, bears a heavy burden.
Featured in Columns & Editorial
The Day, New London, CT.
Published on 1/19/2005
The trial of Paul R. Shanley that began in Boston this week is only
superficially an examination of rape charges against the defrocked priest at
the epicenter of the Church's priest sex scandal. But the occasion carries a
far heavier burden than the trial of one man in one city.
Despite the huge, $85 million settlement the Boston Archdiocese made to settle
hundreds of clergy sex abuse cases, despite the fact that Cardinal Bernard Law
is no longer head of Boston's Catholics, no member of the clergy has gone to
prison as the result of this widespread scandal. The victims' pain is real and
hasn't gone away. Even if a jury finds Mr. Shanley guilty, it wouldn't be
surprising if the feeling in the end, on the part of victims and those
outraged at the church, is one of profound emptiness.
Two years ago the court released thousands of documents to the public
documenting the Church's actions on these and other cases. To sort through
these memos, letters, notes and reports, many on official stationery, is
downright hair-raising. Over and over, officials' concern is not for the
victims, or the understandable objections of the laity over hurtful and even
dangerous acts, but for public relations and reputations, at all costs.
Documents going back to the 1960s show that Church hierarchy knew about Mr.
Shanley's sexual deviancy. Even into the 1990s, church officials were more
concerned about keeping him somewhere other than Boston than keeping people
around him safe. Just one 1995 memo marked “confidential” written to
Cardinal Law from the Rev. Brian M. Flatley talked about a possible job for
the then-Father Shanley in New York at a Catholic retreat house. The memo
talks about the need for strict supervision, discussed Father Shanley's
“psychological pathology,” and says, “of course, the bottom line is,
what do we have to do if he has to leave there? This is probably a better
situation than we can come up with.”
Those two sentences sum up the Church's mistaken and heart-breaking approach.
The Church would, no doubt, like to put this and other scandals behind it. The
only way that will occur is if the American bishops invite far more openness
and lay participation. And sadly, no matter what happens to Mr. Shanley, the
many church officials who aided and abetted his repulsive career will remain
largely unscathed from any human court.
© The Day Publishing Co., 2005