Paul Shanley, a Boston priest notorious for his role in the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal, was released from prison on Friday morning.
He was convicted in 2005 of repeatedly raping a boy over a number of years in the 1980s. Shanley was one of the first priests to go to prison for abuse as the scandal began to unfold more than a decade ago; the statute of limitations had been frozen in Shanley’s case because he had moved from Massachusetts to California, according to The Boston Globe.
Shanley, 86, served 12 years of a 12- to 15-year sentence and was released for good behavior. He will be on supervised probation for 10 years.
Some of Shanley’s other alleged victims have voiced dismay that the defrocked priest is going to be released into the community. But Massachusetts authorities say they can’t detain him.
“The commonwealth is not legally permitted to seek that Shanley be confined further without expert testimony that he meets the legal criteria for civil confinement as a sexually dangerous person,” Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan said in a statement, Reuters reports.
“This is a guy, Shanley, who has manipulated the system, the church and the public and knows how to manipulate people,” said John Harris, 59, who says he was raped by Shanley in 1979 at a retreat the priest had created for gay people, according to the Globe. “I’m concerned he’s going to abuse again.”
“If Paul Shanley doesn’t qualify as a sexually dangerous person, then nobody will ever qualify,” said Carmen Durso, an attorney who represented many Shanley victims, the Globe reported.
Massachusetts’ sex offender registry lists Shanley as a Level 3 offender, indicating “the risk of reoffense is high.” Shanley’s lawyer said he is not dangerous, The Associated Press reports.
“While we understand and respect the American judicial system, we fear for the safety of children now that Shanley has been released,” Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests Managing Director Barbara Dorris said in a statement. “Research and experience teach us that age does not cure pedophilia. Often age gives predators an advantage. People may see an old man and assume he is harmless. That is not the case.
“The Catholic Church has many treatment facilities for clergy and former clergy with sexual issues,” Dorris added. “We hope that they will insist Shanley live in a facility where he can receive treatment and where he will have no access to children.”
Dr. Martin Kafka, a psychiatrist who has long worked with sex offenders, told the Globe that pedophiles have higher recidivism rates than other sex offenders but that recidivism rates fall sharply after age 60, as testosterone levels decline.
“One of the reasons you would want to keep Shanley [behind bars] is he was a child molester of boys. That is a factor,” Kafka said. “But the fact that he’s in his late 80s would be a very important factor, as well.”
In a statement reported by the Globe, the Boston Archdiocese said Shanley’s crimes “against children were reprehensible. No young person should ever have to experience such violations of their safety and dignity.”
The Globe‘s investigative reporting on the clergy abuse scandal won a Pulitzer Prize and was depicted in the movie Spotlight. Reporter Sacha Pfeiffer wrote at length about Shanley in 2002:
“He espoused radical views in a city deeply wedded to tradition, and his was a voice of defiance in an institution where obedience is sacred. Known as Boston’s street priest in the 1960s and ’70s, he created a ‘ministry to alienated youth’ for runaways, drug abusers, drifters, and teenagers struggling with their sexual identity.
“But in the parishes and counseling rooms where desperate and troubled young people sought his help, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley was a sexual predator. In interviews with four people who said they were abused by Shanley, as well as their families and lawyers who have settled at least three sexual abuse claims against him with the Archdiocese of Boston, the same stories repeatedly emerged: rape, molestation and coerced sex in which Shanley used his power and authority to prey on those who came to him for guidance and support.”