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Kevin Cullen

A predator walks while his protectors never had to stand

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

It seems achingly unfair that Joe Crowley is dead and Paul Shanley is about to go free.

Shanley, a predator in a Roman collar, is wrapping up a 12-year sentence for raping a Sunday school student in the early 1980s.

Some have the audacity to suggest that Shanley was overpunished, that he got more time in prison than he deserved because he eluded justice for his multitude of other crimes on technical grounds.

Fine. So Paul Shanley is the O.J. Simpson of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. It is what it is.

The reality is that Paul Shanley ruined countless lives, including Joe Crowley’s, and he was never held accountable or punished for that. Shanley got off easy, if you ask me. The bigger scandal is that so many of his fellow predators, and their supervisors, never saw the inside of a prison cell.

Joe Crowley was 15 years old, a student at Boston College High School on a path to college, when a 40-year-old Shanley raped him, then passed him on to other men like a cigarette.


Like a lot of young, vulnerable teenagers who fell under Shanley’s charismatic street priest spell, Crowley walked right into his clutches. Crowley spent years blaming himself, ruining his health, mental and physical, with booze and cigarettes and whatever else might dull the memories.

“I was angry,” Crowley told me five years ago, when he first spoke publicly about the abuse he suffered at Shanley’s hands. “At my perpetrator. At the church, which I knew was aware of Shanley’s crimes and protected him. At myself, for allowing myself to be vulnerable.”

In 2002, at the height of the sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, Crowley walked to the front of the Back Bay apartment building where Shanley raped him. He threw up.


But, encouraged by his friends and his attorney, Carmen Durso, Crowley defeated the past by continually confronting it. He forced himself to attend Shanley’s trial.

“I was sitting 10 feet away from the man who’d raped me, pimped me, and stole my innocence,” Crowley told me.

When the jury pronounced Shanley guilty, the Middlesex County courtroom erupted with pent-up emotion. But Joe Crowley showed no emotion.

Crowley saved his gratitude that day for his sobriety: Shanley was convicted on the ninth anniversary of Crowley’s sobriety.

Joe Crowley said we’ll never know the extent of Shanley’s victims, because so many of them had been on the fringes even before they encountered Shanley. They were runaways, throwaway kids. Many of them died young, from addiction, from self-loathing, from feeling things those of us who haven’t suffered such degrading treatment could never imagine.

Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer talked with Joe Crowley during a visit to the newsroom in 2016.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

It should surprise no one that Shanley’s victims and their lawyers think he got off easy, and that he remains a sexually dangerous person, despite being 86 and having been deemed not sexually dangerous by two doctors retained by Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan.

As Durso put it, if Paul Shanley isn’t sexually dangerous, who is?

One of the reasons, if not the main reason, that Shanley’s prospective release is causing so much anxiety in the survivors’ community is that so few predatory priests, and none of their supervisors, went to prison. Shanley’s leaving Massachusetts froze the statute of limitations and made him the rare exception, held accountable in a court of law.


But even as so many rightly ask why Shanley, who is getting out early because of good behavior, should be shown any mercy, we should never stop asking why none of his supervisors ever had to stand in court and answer to charges.

In 1979, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros made Shanley the pastor of St. Jean-St. John Parish in Newton, five years after the mother of one of Shanley’s victims told the cardinal that Shanley had abused her son. While there, Shanley raped some other mother’s son. That other mother, Paula Ford, stood in Carmen Durso’s office on Wednesday afternoon, demanding to know how on earth anyone could look at Paul Shanley’s record and conclude he does not remain a threat.

Medeiros died long before the scandal broke. His successor, Cardinal Bernard Law, looked the other way, too.

The Rev. William Murphy, who handled abusive priests for Law, treated Shanley with kid gloves. When one of Shanley’s victims, Arthur Austin, told Murphy about Shanley’s abuse, Murphy acknowledged that Shanley abused others. Then Murphy pressured Austin to keep his mouth shut and take a cash settlement with a confidentiality agreement.

For their enabling of Paul Shanley and other predators, Bernard Law was rewarded with a sinecure in Rome while Murphy was made a bishop in New York. That’s how the Vatican responded to creeps like Shanley and enablers like Law and Murphy.

Speaking at Durso’s office, two of Shanley’s victims, Dennis O’Connor and John Harris, seemed more hurt than angry. They think Shanley should remain in prison, if only because he has refused therapy and doesn’t consider himself the predator that he is.


“There’s been no rehabilitation,” Harris said. “He abuses all ages. Boys and girls, men and women.”

O’Connor offered to sit down with Shanley and help him acknowledge what he did to so many young people.

Rodney Ford, Paula’s husband, has no interest in sitting down with Shanley. He said if he ever bumped into him, he’d hurt him. Who’d blame him?

Joe Crowley was 58 when died in April. Paul Shanley was an accomplice in Crowley’s painful life and premature death, another charge for which he’ll never face justice.

Joe Crowley’s wake at the Lawler and Crosby Funeral Home in West Roxbury was deeply spiritual, something of a joyous 12-step meeting. People who Joe had helped get and stay sober stood up and told their stories, and of their abiding love for a man who took his own suffering and turned it into something that could help others.

I miss Joe, his funny stories about Bette Davis and all the rest. But I’m glad he doesn’t have to watch Paul Shanley walk out of prison on Friday. Joe suffered enough. For the rest of Shanley’s victims, and for survivors everywhere, the suffering continues.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at