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Survivors speak out against news that priest convicted of child rape will be released

Paul Shanley was one of the first priests to face a trial following a Boston Globe series that uncovered decades of sexual abuse by clergy members.
Paul Shanley, a central figure in the Boston Archdiocese clergy sex abuse scandal, is led from court in handcuffs following his sentencing in Middlesex Superior Court February 15, 2005.
Paul Shanley, a central figure in the Boston Archdiocese clergy sex-abuse scandal, is led from court in handcuffs following his sentencing in Middlesex Superior Court on February 15, 2005. Photo: Getty Images

After news that Paul Shanley, a defrocked Catholic priest who was convicted on child rape charges, is set to be released from prison, survivors and family members of those who were abused by him spoke out.

Shanley faced trial following the Boston Globe's Spotlight report on clergy sexual abuse and the Boston Archdiocese's complicated coverup. He is set to be released from prison on Friday, according to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office.

Shanley was convicted in 2005 and has served 12 years for two counts of rape of a child and two counts of indecent assault and battery of a child — though attorney Mitchell Garabedian said he likely has hundreds of victims, according to his experience in the field.

Some of those survivors spoke out at a news conference on Wednesday against the move, which was decided by two qualified examiners.

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“My biggest concern is that there’s been no rehabilitation of Father Shanley,” said John Harris, an adult survivor who was abused by Shanley in 1979. “He is being released into the public soon, and I just want to remind the public that he has abused all ages – children, adolescents, young adults – he has abused women, men and both sexes of children.”

The state cannot legally seek that Shanley be confined further without expert testimony declaring that he meets the criteria for “civil confinement as a sexually dangerous person,” according to the DA’s office. Two doctors have concluded that Shanley does not satisfy that criteria as a sexually dangerous person.

“We are here in part as a protest to that decision,” said attorney Carmen Durso, who has represented multiple clergy abuse victims. “We think that Paul Shanley was one of the most dangerous pedophiles that attorneys in this area have seen, and we believe he still continues to pose a threat.”

Rodney Ford, the father of one victim whose case lead to Shanley’s conviction, was visibly emotional at the news conference.

“My son told me years ago that Paul Shanley won’t die in prison, and he was right,” he said, fighting tears. “Paul Shanley is evil. He destroyed my son’s life, my family's life and so many other victims’ lives.”

Shanley is currently 86. The attorneys believe that the decision to release him was made in part because of his age, though they are not convinced that it would deter him from abusing more children or adults.

“Many victims have contacted me who were abused by Father Paul Shanley. They're haunted by his release,” Garabedian said, noting that the terms of Shanley’s parole do not include being monitored by a GPS bracelet. “Paul Shanley could be anywhere at any time, sexually abusing and … there’s no magic wand to heal the damage that will be everlasting. We have to act in a manner that will be preventative.”

Though it’s unknown right now what community Shanley will be in once he is released, Garabedian also encouraged anyone who sees him in public to call the police and notify authorities of his whereabouts.

Upon his release, Shanley is not allowed to have contact with children under the age of 16 — though Harris revealed that he had been assaulted by Shanley when Harris was 21 years old — and is required to make telephone calls to check in while on probation.

Denis O’Connor, another adult survivor who said he was sodomized by Shanley when he was around 14 years old, was most concerned that Shanley has yet to admit his wrongdoings.

“He still claims that he’s not a child molester,” he said. “We all know that if you've got an issue, the first point of moving forward is acknowledging your issue. He hasn’t acknowledged his issue.”

The Boston Globe uncovered the clergy abuse scandal in a series of articles by the Spotlight team in 2002. Spotlight was made into a movie in 2015 and prominently portrayed Garabedian as well as Joe Crowley, who was also abused by Shanley, among others.

Crowley died this past April at 58 from health complications that reportedly stemmed from the drinking and smoking he turned to after the assault, according to the Globe.

“In honor of Joe Crowley, I think today what we should be considering is how Paul Shanley in essence destroyed Joe Crowley’s life,” Durso said. “Now [Shanley] will be released, and if anyone can’t see the disparity and dishonesty of that, we have lot to do.”