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Paul Shanley, ex-priest notorious in Boston abuse scandal, freed from prison

Defrocked priest Paul Shanley, one of the most notorious figures in the Boston clergy sex abuse scandal, was released from prison Friday after serving 12 years for child rape.

Shanley, 86, now faces 10 years of supervised probation.

Shanley, a once beloved, charismatic “street priest” who was defrocked after dozens of men came forward to accuse him of molesting them when they were children, was freed after experts told prosecutors that he does not meet the legal criteria for civil confinement as a sexually dangerous person.

He was convicted in 2005 at the age of 71 for the rape of a boy in a Newton, Mass., parish and received a sentence of 12 to 15 years. In the lead-up to his trial, he was accused of sexual offenses of young boys dating back to the 1980s.

Shanley, who was released from the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater, Mass., on Friday, is barred from interacting with children.

He will be required to register as a Level 3, or high-risk, sex offender, a designation that means his photo and other information about him will be posted on the state Sex Offender Registry Board’s website.

The notorious clergy sex abuse scandal exploded in Boston in 2002 after a series of stories by The Boston Globe revealed that dozens of priests in the archdiocese had molested and raped children for decades while church supervisors covered it up and shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish. Thousands of victims came forward in Boston and around the world, describing sexual abuse by priests that dated back decades.

The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation, and its crusade was the basis for the movie Spotlight, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2016.

During the trial, Shanley’s accuser, then a 27-year-old firefighter, said Shanley would pull him from Sunday catechism classes and rape and fondle him at St. Jean’s parish in Newton, beginning when he was 6 years old. The man said he recovered memories of the abuse as the clergy sex abuse scandal unfolded in the Archdiocese of Boston during the early 2000s.

USATODAY.com – Catholics wonder: How could a priest do this?
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented some of the men in lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Boston, said his clients are upset Shanley is getting out of prison.

‘‘Unfortunately, there is no mechanism in place which will prevent Paul Shanley from sexually abusing once again,’’ Garabedian said. ‘‘When it comes to a sexual abuser abusing an innocent child, the abuser can be 35 or 95 — there’s no age limit.’’

The statute of limitations prevents the state from charging Shanley with more sex crimes, but lawyers estimate that 30 people are pursuing civil cases against the Boston archdiocese. They say officials knew for decades Shanley abused children and failed to protect them.

The Archdiocese of Boston, the fourth-largest archdiocese in the country with more than 1.8 million Catholics, called Shanley’s crimes against children ‘‘reprehensible.’’

‘‘No young person should ever have to experience such violations of their safety and dignity,’’ it said in a statement Tuesday.

Shanley’s appellate lawyer, Robert Shaw Jr., said Shanley has “served his time,” Boston.com reported.

“We’ve never believed that he was dangerous, and we didn’t believe that what he was convicted of was a valid conviction, given that it rested on repressed memory evidence that we did not believe was valid,” he said.

The earliest documents show that Shanley always had a smooth answer for his superiors whenever allegations surfaced through the layers of church bureaucracy. Shanley, in his letters among the records, often said those who complained about him were “fragile” or “vindictive,” or they simply “misunderstood” his actions.

Boston-born Shanley graduated from St. John’s Seminary, which shares a verdant campus with the headquarters of the Boston archdiocese. He was ordained at age 29.

In 1995, Shanley said he, too, “had been sexually abused as a teenager, and as a seminarian, by a priest, a faculty member, a pastor” and someone he says eventually became a cardinal.

But in 1960, the new priest had one focus. Of 30 interest areas listed on the application for his first assignment, he checked one: youth work.

“He was great at it,” recalls Kevin O’Toole, 48, of Boston, who says his late brother, Bill, was one of Shanley’s first victims.

Carmen Durso, attorney for four Shanley victims in civil cases against the Boston archdiocese, said Shanley traded on children’s faith in powerful adults and teens’ guilt and fear of homosexual pleasure for decades.

Shanley, who once toured the country giving lectures favoring sexual activity between children and men, was allowed to roam parishes for three decades.

He was eventually eased out of the priesthood by the church, although the Boston archdiocese, following the bishops’ conference guidelines, then stripped Shanley of his ministry. He was also shipped off for an evaluation at the Institute of Living, a Hartford, Conn., treatment center for troubled clergy.

At the time of his arrest, Shanley had retired to San Diego and settled into quiet days in the sun and volunteer work with the San Diego Police Department.

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