WARE — Paul R. Shanley, a key figure in the clergy sex abuse scandal that began in Boston and shook the Roman Catholic church worldwide, was released from prison Friday and arrived in this small town walking with a cane and looking frail.
After spending 12 years in state prison for raping a boy in the 1980s, Shanley will now live in a yellow, wood-sided, three-story house that, records show, is already home to four other Level 3 sex offenders — considered the most likely to commit another sexual crime.
Police said they would step up patrols on Shanley’s street to protect him from harassment and to protect the public from the 86-year-old former priest, who has been accused of abuse by dozens of victims over three decades.
“It’s awful that he’s even on the streets of Ware,’’ said Arielle Lask, who owns Limelight Dance Studio, just across the street from Shanley’s home in this town of about 10,000 residents, 30 miles west of Worcester. Lask, who is 23 and teaches dance to children as young as 2, vowed to install “state-of-the-art” security systems in her studio and to make sure every child leaves accompanied by a parent or an adult.
“Whether it’s across the street or down the road, there are children everywhere,” she said.
At the Ware police station, Shanley ignored a reporter’s questions after he was helped up by the stairs by a man who declined to identify himself. Shanley was there to register as a sex offender.
A denim-clad “street priest” in the 1960s and ’70s, Shanley was notorious for preying on children and troubled teenagers who came to him for counseling. He was one of the few priests in the sex abuse scandal to face criminal charges because he left Massachusetts and moved to California in about 1989, which stopped the clock on the statute of limitations in Massachusetts.
Shanley was defrocked by the Vatican in 2004 and convicted the following year of raping a Sunday school student at his Newton church from the time the boy was 6 until he was 9. Shanley was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan opposed Shanley’s release from prison and sought to have him remain behind bars as a “sexually dangerous person.” But two psychologists hired by Ryan’s office concluded Shanley did not meet the legal criteria.
Massachusetts law says that to be declared a “sexually dangerous person,” an offender must have “a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes such person likely to engage in sexual offenses if not confined to a secure facility.”
The psychologists, Katrin Rouse Weir and Mark Schaefer, said in their reports that Shanley remains a pedophile, with a sexual interest in prepubescent boys, which would meet the legal definition of a “mental abnormality.”
But the psychologists said Shanley’s sexual interest in children is mitigated by his age, which is associated with a diminished sex drive.
Schaefer also said that Shanley’s last known sexual offense was in 1990, more than 25 years ago, when he was no longer a parish priest.
“This would suggest that Mr. Shanley’s offending was linked to his easy access to boys over whom he could be in a position of authority,” Schaefer wrote in a report released by Ryan’s office on Friday. But “there have been no indications that he continued to reoffend once he was removed from his position of authority within the church.”
Weir wrote that Shanley would benefit from treatment for pedophilia.
“However, his age and his health impact his ability to act out on his sexual arousal and his interest in sexual matters,” she wrote. “While it is impossible to opine that there is absolutely no risk of Mr. Shanley engaging in a potential sexual offense, in my opinion . . . his presentation does not meet the threshold required by the statute. He would not be likely to reoffend sexually if released from a secure facility.”
Weir and Schaeffer based their opinions on alleged victims’ statements, police reports, newspaper articles, internal church correspondence, and a psychological assessment tool that takes into account such risk factors as an offender’s age at the time of release, whether they have ever lived with a lover for at least two years, and whether they have a history of violence.
There is no indication in their reports that Weir and Schaeffer interviewed Shanley in person.
“Victims believe that Paul Shanley did not want to be interviewed by the experts because Paul Shanley has volumes to hide about pedophilia,” said Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who has represented Shanley’s alleged victims.
Many of those alleged victims believe Shanley remains a grave threat. That’s why Robert Hoatson stood outside Old Colony prison on Friday morning, carrying a sign that read “AT 86 STILL A RISK” and a large photo of Shanley labeled “DANGER” and “BEWARE.”
Hoatson then drove two hours to Ware, where he carried his signs up and down Pulaski Street. Hoatson agreed Shanley is entitled to privacy in his new home but said Shanley should expect wary stares and protesters.
“He should be exposed to what his victims are feeling,” said Hoatson, cofounder and president of Road To Recovery, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that aims to help survivors of sexual abuse. “His victims can’t leave their houses without feeling uneasy, fearful, and full of post-traumatic stress.”