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Paul Shanley, notorious priest in Catholic sex abuse scandal, to be released this week

Paul Shanley appeared in Suffolk County Superior Court in May 2008.Globe Staff/File

Paul R. Shanley , a former “street priest” who became one of the most notorious figures in the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal, is set to be released from prison as early as this week after serving 12 years behind bars for raping a Sunday school student in the early 1980s.

Middlesex prosecutors said they had hoped to keep the 86-year-old defrocked priest behind bars even after his sentence was completed by having him declared a “sexually dangerous person.” But two doctors who examined Shanley found that he did not meet the required criteria, prosecutors said.

“We are awaiting their final reports,” Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office said in a statement Tuesday. “However, both doctors have informed us that they have concluded that Shanley does not satisfy the legal criteria for a petition to be filed.”


Shanley was accused of abusing roughly 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.

Prosecutors and prison officials would not say when Shanley will be released from Old Colony Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Bridgewater where he is serving his sentence. But victims’ attorneys said they were told it would be this week, most likely on Friday.

Carmen L. Durso, a victims’ attorney, said Shanley is serving the minimum required of his 12 to 15 year sentence because he earned time for good behavior behind bars.

Durso, who represented many of Shanley’s alleged victims in civil claims against the Catholic Church, said he was outraged that the doctors who examined Shanley did not find him to be sexually dangerous.

“If Paul Shanley is not a continuing threat, then nobody is,” Durso said.


After he is released, Shanley will be monitored by the state Probation Department for the next 10 years and has been ordered to have no contact with children under the age of 16, the district attorney’s office said. He will have to register as a sex offender.

Rodney Ford, whose son, Gregory, was allegedly molested by Shanley in the 1990s, said he was disappointed, angry, and upset that Shanley will not be held behind bars under the state’s civil commitment law for sexually dangerous persons.

“People need to know this is a monster who is going to be let out of prison, and age and frailty don’t mean anything,” said Ford, whose son said he was abused by Shanley between the ages of 6 and 11. “It’s about power and control for Paul Shanley.’’

Ford said he plans to speak at a press conference with Shanley’s victims and their attorneys at Durso’s office on Wednesday.

“It’s a sad day for many victims,” said Mitchell Garabedian, who represented Shanley’s victims in civil claims against the church. “Father Shanley has ruined their lives from sexually abusing them, and they feel not only did Father Shanley get away with sexually abusing them, but the supervisors of Father Shanley got away with allowing him to do it.”

Early in his ministry, Father Paul Shanley built a reputation at such churches as St. Francis of Assissi in Braintree for his activism and antiestablishment viewpoints.Globe Staff/File 1969

The Archdiocese of Boston released a statement Tuesday, saying, “Paul Shanley’s crimes against children were reprehensible. No young person should ever have to experience such violations of their safety and dignity. We continue to assure all victims of abuse of our prayers and our concern.”


Shanley’s rose to prominence in the 1970s as denim-clad, shaggy-haired counterculture figure, well known for criticizing the church’s stance on homosexuality. But his victims said counseling sessions with the former priest often resulted in coerced sex at his apartment in Back Bay.

Shanley was one of the few priests implicated in the church’s pedophile priest scandal to face a criminal trial because he left Massachusetts and moved to California in about 1989, stopping the clock on the statute of limitations for sexual abuse prosecutions.

At Shanley’s trial in 2005, 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, even though in 1974, according to one of Shanley’s victims, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros had been notified of Shanley’s abuse by a victim’s mother.

Shanley was convicted of two counts of rape of a child and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child. Middlesex prosecutors asked for a life sentence, but Judge Stephen A. Neel sentenced him to 12 to 15 years behind bars.

In a statement read by a prosecutor in court, the firefighter who was raped by Shanley 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!”


Michael Levenson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.