Repressed Memory Evidence Challenged In Massachusetts Sex Conviction

Paul Shanley, a former catholic priest with the Archdiocese of Boston who was convicted in 2005 of the repeated rape of an altar boy in the 1980’s, has filed a Motion for a New Trial, challenging the validity of the evidence used to convict him in 2005, reports the Boston Globe in a story published today. Shanley is now serving a 12 to 15 year sentence for that conviction. At his trial in 2005, Shanley was convicted largely on the strength of the victim’s testimony, which was based on memories that the victim testified were previously suppressed, but involuntarily recovered when Shanley’s arrest on charges of previously abusing other altar boys was widely publicized in the media. At that point, the victim came forward to police, claiming memories of his own abuse at Shanley’s hands came rushing back to him.

Shanley, 77, now claims in his motion for a new trial that this testimony by the victim was unreliable, and should not have been admitted into evidence against him. His motion claims that his prior lawyer should have presented evidence that the theory of repressed memories is not unanimously accepted in the scientific community, but rather is challenged by some medical professionals. The District Attorney’s office that convicted Shanley says his motion is baseless, and that the concept of suppressed memories has achieved more than sufficient scientific and legal credibility.

Hence, the question now is, should Shanley be granted a new trial? I think not. It’s important to remember, Shanley’s trial was a criminal trial – not a civil one where anyone stood to gain any money or financial damages. There exists no credible reason why someone such as the victim in this case would place himself front and center in such a case, and put himself through the ordeal of testifying publicly at trial about extremely traumatic events, unless he was telling the truth. This victim stood little to gain in this trial by fabricating his testimony. Further, Shanley was initially arrested because several other men, now in their 20’s and 30’s, came forward after the clergy sexual abuse scandal first broke in Boston, to report that they, too, were abused by Shanley. It was only due to evidentiary technicalities relating to the statute of limitations that prevented charges being brought against Shanley based those other allegations. Shanley was known far and wide as a “street priest” in the 1970’s and 80’s, “ministering” to young boys and homosexuals. Far from “ministering”, it is now known he used his authority as a priest to prey on these boys and young gay men, many of whom felt ostracized by their friends and family to their homosexuality. As I said, several other men have alleged he abused them also.

To grant this person a new trial based on this particular motion is disingenuous, and lacks legal merit. Shanley’s motion should be denied forthwith, and he should remain exactly where he is.