Special Reports

The predator priests

Note: This article is from the Globe’s original online special section on the Spotlight investigation into clergy sex abuse.

Evidence suggests that many instances of child abuse by clergy were not one-time, isolated incidents. Shielded by a church culture of secrecy, some deviant priests preyed upon numerous victims during multiple parish assignments. Four priests in particular stand out for the number of abuse claims or the seriousness of the charges against them.

• Now-defrocked priest John Geoghan allegedly preyed on young boys in a half-dozen Boston-area parishes for decades. He is serving nine to 10 years in prison for fondling a youth at a pool in Waltham; a child rape charge and many civil claims are pending.

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• Up until his death in 1989, the Rev. Joseph Birmingham allegedly befriended and then abused at least 50 boys over a 29-year career as a priest in the Boston Archdiocese, even as archdiocesan officials ignored numerous complaints against him.

• The Rev. Paul R. Shanley ran a “street ministry” in Boston in the 1960s and ‘70s, allegedly taking advantage of youths who came to him for guidance. He is awaiting trial on charges he raped four boys at a Newton parish.

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• The Rev. Ronald H. Paquin is the only Boston-area priest who has admitted guilt in a criminal molestation case, and is serving 12 to 15 years in prison for rape. He also has acknowledged molesting several boys during his ministry at parishes in Haverhill and Methuen.

Church records have revealed stories of many other repeat abusers, including priests who traded drugs for sex with minors, fathered children, and physically assaulted their victims. In the case of almost every predator priest, church officials had reports of abusive behavior, but allowed the priests to remain in ministry, documents show. In many cases, accused priests were sent for brief periods of psychological evaluation, then returned to parishes -- where they abused again.

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