fb-pixel Skip to main content

Paul Shanley, ‘poster boy’ of clergy sexual abuse scandal, dead at 89

In 2008, three years after being convicted of raping a boy in Newton, Paul Shanley appeared in Suffolk County Superior Court to seek a new trial.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/file

Paul R. Shanley, a defrocked priest and convicted child rapist who became one of the most notorious figures in the Catholic Church clergy sexual abuse scandal, died of heart failure on Oct. 28 at a Ware hospice facility, according to state officials.

The 89-year-old had been living in Ware since his release from prison three years ago after serving 12 years for repeatedly raping a boy in the 1980s.

“Children are now safer because of the passing of Paul Shanley,” said Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented dozens of Shanley’s victims in civil claims against the church and described him as “one of the poster boys of clergy sexual abuse throughout the United States and the world.”


Garabedian said Shanley’s victims feel cheated because he died a free man and church supervisors who failed to stop him from preying on victims were never prosecuted.

“Victims are still coming forward claiming to have been sexually abused by Paul Shanley,” Garabedian said. “The negligence of the Archdiocese of Boston was inexcusable and irreparable to many victims.”

In a statement issued Friday, the Archdiocese of Boston said, “The harm caused to so many by Paul Shanley is immeasurable. His victims showed great courage in exposing his crimes and fighting for justice both within the criminal justice system and the Church. We are indebted to Shanley’s victims and all victims of clergy abuse for what they have done to stop the abuse, assure that the Church supports healing for those abused, and puts the protection of children at the top of our priorities.”

The Archdiocese said its Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach is available to those who were abused by clergy and their families, and encouraged anyone who was abused by clergy to call, “regardless of when the abuse occurred."

The death was first reported Friday by Boston 25 News.


Shanley was accused of abusing some two dozen victims over several decades, many of them troubled adolescents who came to him for counseling when he ran a “ministry for alienated youth” in Boston in the 1960s and ’70s. He was known as a “street priest,” who dressed in jeans and plaid shirts, and was well-known for criticizing the church’s stance on homosexuality.

Years later, he would be exposed as a sexual predator. The Boston Globe Spotlight Team reported in 2002 that thousands of pages of documents showed that church officials knew of numerous sexual abuse allegations against Shanley and that the priest had publicly advocated sex between men and boys. Despite this, Shanley was shuttled from parish to parish in the Boston Archdiocese, and eventually transferred to a California church with a letter of recommendation from one of Cardinal Bernard Law’s top deputies.

Shanley was one of the few priests implicated in the church’s pedophile priest scandal to face criminal charges because he left Massachusetts and moved to California around 1989, stopping the clock on the statute of limitations for sexual abuse prosecutions. He was defrocked by the Vatican in 2004.

At Shanley’s trial in Middlesex County the following year, a 27-year-old firefighter testified that he was raped by Shanley while attending Sunday school at St. Jean’s Church in Newton from the time he was 6 until he was 9. Shanley had been named pastor of that church in 1979, five years after Cardinal Humberto Medeiros had been notified of his abuse by a victim’s mother, according to one of Shanley’s victims.


Shanley was convicted of two counts of rape of a child and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child and sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison.

In a statement read by a prosecutor in court, the rape victim said he hoped the former priest would never be released. “I want him to die in prison, whether it’s of natural causes or otherwise,” his statement said. “However he dies, I hope it’s slow and painful!”

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.