NEWTON - Jackie Gauvreau made no secret of her animus for the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.
Her hatred was so vocal that the accusations she leveled against him in the 1980s eventually became mere background noise for St. John the Evangelist parishioners - the ceaseless rage of someone mounting a bizarre crusade against a popular priest.
Her message: Shanley was a child molester.
Gauvreau said she had discovered that Shanley, Boston’s famed former “street priest,” had groped a 15-year-old boy she knew. She learned of the alleged incident from the boy himself, after he fled Shanley’s car, where the fondling took place.
“He became a cause for me,” Gauvreau, who is now 59, said of Shanley. “I told anybody who would listen.”
Everyone heard her, but no one really listened - not her fellow parishioners, not the priests and a bishop she notified, not even Cardinal Bernard F. Law, whom Gauvreau says she twice told of the allegation, to no avail.
But many now wish they had.
Greg Ford, a 24-year-old Newton man, charged in a lawsuit filed yesterday that he was repeatedly raped by Shanley during the 1980s, with much of the abuse occurring after Law was alerted that Shanley was a danger to children.
The latest in a long string of accusations against Shanley names only Law as defendant, accusing him of “intentional, reckless and/or negligent acts” for not removing Shanley. Ford’s parents, Rodney and Paula Ford of Newton, are also plaintiffs in the suit.
“He wrecked my life,” Greg Ford said of Shanley in an interview.
The new allegations come at a time when the Archdiocese of Boston is beset with accusations that it long ignored complaints about pedophile priests, including defrocked priest John J. Geoghan. And after settling molestation claims, the church allowed many priests to resume parish work in the 1990s.
Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, did not respond to Globe questions about the lawsuit and Gauvreau’s assertion that she warned Law about Shanley.
Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who is representing the Fords and several years ago represented other Shanley victims, said Law turned a “deaf ear” to Gauvreau and people who complained about other priests over the years.
“I do not believe that Father Shanley could have waged his long-running war of abuse here in Massachusetts without the knowledge of high officials of the archdiocese,” MacLeish said.
The Globe Spotlight Team reported Jan. 31 that the church had settled at least three molestation claims against Shanley. The Globe has since learned of two more settlements.
After a decade as a controversial street priest who ministered to troubled youth, Shanley was assigned to St. John’s in 1979. He became pastor in 1984, but resigned in December 1989 for a “sabbatical” in Calfornia due to what a church official described at the time as a stomach ailment. He now resides in San Diego. Shanley, asked through a friend for an interview, has not responded.
By Gauvreau’s account, she became obsessed with exposing Shanley after learning of his misconduct in the early 1980s. She confronted Shanley frequently, and her fixation earned her considerable notoriety.
“I’d say to him, `You’re a child molester,’ and when he ignored me I’d go to Mass and just stand there and stare at him. I went to irritate him,” Gauvreau said. “If I met people at the store I’d tell them, `Don’t trust him. He’s no good. He molested a child.’ I’d tell people every chance I got, and they’d look at me like I was crazy.”
Gauvreau said that when she discovered that Shanley was counseling patients at McLean Hospital, she took her complaints to McLean officials.
The 15-year-old victim who prompted Gauvreau’s crusade, who is now in his 30s, refused to be interviewed for this story.
She said she notified three Newton priests, the Revs. Joseph F. McGlone, Arthur M. Calter, and Michael F. Doocey, but nothing was done. Calter declined to comment. McGlone did not return a call seeking comment. Doocey was not well enough to respond.
Gauvreau estimates she called church headquarters at least 40 times. Often, she said, officials hung up on her.
And twice, she said, she notified Law of the alleged abuse, first at a televised Mass for which she sang in the choir. When Law appeared, “I saw him and I went right for him,” Gauvreau said. “I looked him straight in the face and said, `Paul Shanley, the priest at St. John’s in Newton, molested a 15-year-old boy.’ I gave him my name and the church I belonged to and he said he would look into it.”
After several months passed with no response, Gauvreau approached Law again, this time when he officiated at a Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Newton, which she joined after her anger at Shanley drove her to leave St. John’s. (St. John’s has since been closed, and the two parishes have been combined at Our Lady.)
“I said, `Excuse me, but do you remember I told you Paul Shanley molested a 15-year-old boy?’ Have you done anything about it?’ “ she recalled saying. “And he said, `I want you to call my bishops. That’s why I have them.’ “
Gauvreau said she subsequently met with Bishop John J. Mulcahy. But Mulcahy did nothing, she said. Mulcahy is now dead.
For the Ford family, their son’s disclosure two weeks ago that he was raped by Shanley offers a painful explanation for nearly two decades of emotional turmoil.
Greg Ford, his parents say, was a stable, happy child until about 6, the same age he began attending Sunday religious education classes at St. John’s, the church that Paula’s grandparents helped found. Then, a gradual change in personality took place: aggressive behavior, a fascination with lighting fires, childish writing that took a disturbing turn.
Between the ages of 13 and 19, Greg was hospitalized at least six times. He checked in and out of psychiatric facilities and state-run youth homes, twice attempting suicide. He used drugs and alcohol heavily.
For years, the Fords searched helplessly for an explanation. They considered themselves a close family, with no history of mental illness. Therapists asked if Greg had been sexually abused, but Greg denied it.
But there were signs. Once, when Greg was 19 and his father restrained him when he became violent, he yelled out, “I was raped!” Greg says he doesn’t remember the outburst. And last year, he told his mother about a dream in which a man was molesting him. When he turned to look at the man’s face, he said, he woke up.
Then, on Jan. 31, Paula and Rodney Ford read the Globe story detailing Shanley’s long history of abuse. When they showed the story to Greg, “He looked at me, dropped to his knees and broke down,” Rodney Ford said.
Greg told his parents that his CCD teachers sometimes sent him to see Shanley in the rectory when he misbehaved. He said that is how the abuse began.
“He would play card games, and if you lost you would have to do something to him,” Greg recalled. “I always lost, so he’d make you take your pants off. Then your underwear. . . . Then he’d make you do stuff like bend over.”
The “games” led to sex, he said, followed by warnings to keep it secret. “He’d say, `If you ever tell anyone, they won’t believe you,’ “ Greg said. “He said something would happen to my parents.”
Greg Ford’s memories of the abuse have returned in bits and pieces. He believes the molestation began when he was 6, and ended when he was 11, in 1989, not long before Shanley left.
Greg’s age during the alleged abuse makes him an atypical target for Shanley, whose known victims during the 1960s and ‘70s were typically in their mid- to late teenage years. But MacLeish said yesterday that he has already met with someone else about Ford’s age who was molested by Shanley during the same period.
Now that some of Shanley’s molestations have been publicly reported, many Newton residents recall Gauvreau’s warnings in a much different light.
Even Paula Ford remembers Gauvreau “badmouthing” Shanley years ago, and she recalls a Mass at which Shanley said “someone in this congregation is out to destroy me,” which parishioners understood to be a reference to Gauvreau.
“It wasn’t the kind of situation where a lot of people suspected anything, except Jackie,” said Kathryn D’Agostino, a former St. John’s parishioner and family friend of the Fords. “I have to say that she was right. . . . She had an incredible hatred of him, and she said he was a child molester. I didn’t believe her. I didn’t think she was lying, but I thought she was deluded. From what I knew of this guy, I thought it was impossible. But nobody’s denying it now.”