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Doctors: Paul Shanley not likely to reoffend because of his advanced age, exile from church

The two psychologists who cleared Paul R. Shanley for release from prison on Friday found that, despite his long history of pedophilia, the notorious former priest is not likely to reoffend because he is 86 and no longer holds a position of authority over children in the church.

The psychologists’ opinions were revealed in reports that they wrote to the Middlesex district attorney’s office, which partially redacted them and released them on Friday in response to a public records request from the Globe.

Shanley was one of the most detested figures to emerge during the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis more than a decade ago. A so-called “street priest,” he is alleged to have abused dozens of victims over three decades, many of them children and teenagers who came to him for counseling. He was released from prison Friday after serving 12 years behind bars for raping a boy at a Newton church in the 1980s.

Prosecutors had sought to have Shanley remain behind bars even after his sentence was completed.


But the two psychologists hired by the Middlesex district attorney’s office to evaluate Shanley found he did not meet the legal definition of a “sexually dangerous person.” Massachusetts law says that, to qualify, an offender must have “a mental abnormality or personality disorder which makes such person likely to engage in sexual offenses if not confined to a secure facility.”

The psychologists, Katrin Rouse Weir and Mark Schaefer, found that Shanley remains a pedophile, with a sexual interest in boys ages 6 to 12, which would meet the statutory definition of a “mental abnormality.”

But both psychologists said Shanley’s sexual interest in children is mitigated by his age, which research shows is associated with a greatly diminished sex drive.

Schaefer also said that an even more important factor is the length of time since Shanley’s last known sexual offense. Schaeffer said it was in 1990, more than 25 years ago. At that point, Shanley was no longer a parish priest.


“This would suggest that Mr. Shanley’s offending was linked to his easy access to boys over whom he could be in a position of authority,” Schaefer wrote. But “there have been no indications that he continued to reoffend once he was removed from his position of authority within the church.”

In conclusion, Schaeffer wrote, “it cannot be said with a reasonable degree of professional certainty that Mr. Shanley is likely to sexually re-offend unless confined to a secure facility. As such, he does not meet the criteria for a sexually dangerous person in the Commonwealth.”

Weir wrote that Shanley would benefit from treatment for pedophilia.

“However, his age and his health impact his ability to act out on his sexual arousal and his interest in sexual matters,” she wrote. “While it is impossible to opine that there is absolutely no risk of Mr. Shanley engaging in a potential sexual offense, in my opinion… his presentation does not meet the threshold required by the statute. He would not be likely to reoffend sexually if released from a secure facility.”

There is no indication in the psychologists’ reports that either one interviewed Shanley in prison. Both wrote that they had reviewed voluminous materials, including victims’ statements, police reports, newspaper articles, and internal church correspondence.

Weir and Schaefer also evaluated Shanley using the Static-99R, a 1o-item assessment tool that seeks to predict whether a sex offender is likely to reoffend. The tool evaluates offenders based on such risk factors as the their age at the time of release, whether they have ever lived with a lover for at least two years, and whether they have a history of violence.


Shanley’s scores were partially redacted but both psychologists said his Static-99R assessment concluded he has a “below average” risk of committing another sexual offense.

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