Church left gay priest to abuse boys for 30 years

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The Catholic Church in Boston recommended a priest for posts in California and New York while knowing he had been accused of molesting minors over many years and had publicly advocated sex between men and boys.

Church documents obtained under court order in a legal suit suggest officials of the Boston archdiocese learnt of 15 complaints against Father Paul Shanley dating back to 1967, and yet allowed him to take posts that gave him direct contact with children and teenagers.

"All of the suffering that has taken place at the hands of Paul Shanley, a serial child molester for four decades – three of them in Boston – none of it had to happen," said Roderick Macleish, a lawyer for the family of one of the alleged victims and plaintiffs, Gregory Ford.

Mr Ford, 24, claims that during the Eighties, he was repeatedly raped by Father Shanley in Boston. For Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, the Shanley case could become even more devastating than that of John Geoghan, a former priest accused of molesting 130 children over two decades and whose conviction on child abuse charges in January sparked the crisis that has now swept the entire Catholic Church in the United States.

The documents show that the Church had information about Father Shanley speaking out in defence of paedophilia at a conference in 1979 dedicated to exploring so-called man-boy love. The meeting, attended by about 150 people, led to the formation of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or Nambla.

Other records include a letter telling church officials about a 1977 speech delivered by Father Shanley, now 71, defending sex with boys. "The adult is not the seducer – the 'kid' is the seducer," the letter quoted him as saying. "And furthermore, the kid is not traumatised by the act per se; the kid is traumatised when the police and authorities 'drag' him in for questioning."

A spokesman for the arch-diocese said it had "learnt from the painful experience of the inadequate polices and procedures of the past", and that new policies put in place by Cardinal Law were "focused in a singular way on the protection of children".

When Father Shanley was transferred in 1990 to California, church officials told counterparts there he was "in good standing", and had "no problem that could be of concern to your diocese".

Then in 1995, the Boston archdiocese raised no warning flags when he was chosen as acting head of Leo House, a church hostel in Manhattan run for clergy as well as for students and young travellers.

The documents show that officials in New York learnt a little of Father Shanley's past a few months after his arrival at Leo House and were told there was no need to worry. Boston officials sent a letter of reassurance, noting that "Father Shanley's sexual acting-out appears to have ceased in part due to a prostate condition".