Bishop Insists He Did Not Consider Shanley a Threat

By Nancy Meersman
Union Leader [Manchester NH]
Downloaded January 11, 2003

Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack repeatedly testified that in 1993, when he was a high official in the Boston Archdiocese and first faced with sex-abuse complaints against the Rev. Paul Shanley, he did not consider the now notorious priest a threat to young males.

Again and again, McCormack said in testimony under oath that he decided to limit Shanley’s ministries because Shanley was a psychologically damaged person, not because he was a sexual predator who might harm children.

In a deposition taken over five days, lawyers for alleged victims tried to show McCormack knew, or should have known, that several priests in the Boston Archdiocese, including Shanley, were sexually abusing children and the archdiocese did not take effective action to stop them.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege the offending priests were cavalierly handed off from parish to parish to prey on yet more, unsuspecting victims.

In 1993, three or four youths complained that Shanley had sexually assaulted them. At the time, McCormack was Cardinal Bernard Law’s key aide responsible for handling sex abuse complaints against priests.

In the fifth and last session of his deposition for lawsuits against Cardinal Law, taken Nov. 22 and made public this week, McCormack said that prior to these complaints, he had no clue that his seminary classmate Shanley had been accused before, and that the complaints against him went back to the 1960s.

Repeatedly asked if Shanley — who was arrested last year on 16 counts of assault and child rape — posed a risk to young parishioners, McCormack gave other reasons for wanting to restrict Shanley’s ministries, insisting he did not at the time consider Shanley a sexual threat.

When a psychiatrist wrote that “Father Shanley is so personally damaged that his pathology is beyond repair,” McCormack said he did not think this assessment centered on Shanley’s attraction to male children.

McCormack said the psychiatrist’s opinion described Shanley’s overall psychological condition and his related psychosomatic problems including asthma, and allergies.

He was asked if Shanley’s “disorders” would include a tendency to sexually abuse children and if this was the reason McCormack had decided to remove Shanley from “any kind of ministry.”

McCormack answers, “My understanding was that he was not sexually active and that he had a prostate problem, if I’m correct.”

This is contrary to recent reports that describe Shanley, who was in California at the time, as continuing to be sexually active on the West Coast.

Attorney Robert Sherman then asks the bishop, “Because of his psychological makeup, people were at. . .or youths were at risk with respect to Paul Shanley?”

McCormack responds, “No, because of his psychological makeup, he could not perform good ministry.”

Sherman, questioned McCormack again and again as to what the “risk” was in having Shanley perform a ministry and whether it was because he was a sexual offender.

Bishop McCormack replied:

“That his way of ministering was so narcissistic, so, you know, self-centered that he really couldn’t relate to the needs and the feelings of others responsibly.”

Sherman asked, “Is it your testimony that the notion of protecting others had nothing to do with the risk of sexual abuse occurring in the future?”

McCormack answered, “I’m not saying that, either, no. I’m just saying, it was overall. It was a general way that he shouldn’t do any kind of ministry.”

During this time, Shanley was in Palm Springs, Ca. According to plaintiffs’ lawyers, McCormack did not notify church officials in California that Shanley was there.

McCormack explained his reasons for not notifying the Palm Springs bishop: a recommendation had not yet been developed for dealing with Shanley; the archdiocese had its hands full with multiple complaints about several priests, and it was not clear that McCormack would be staying on in California.

“. . .at least those three reasons at least prompted, you know, my not contacting the bishop yet,” McCormack said.

Sherman then probed why the church decided Shanley should come back to Massachusetts and handed McCormack the memo he wrote with the remarks: “No charitable immunity in California. Legal counsel says come home.”

He asked if the archdiocese was concerned that Shanley might commit a sex crime in California and the archdiocese could be sued in that state.

“I can’t say that, honestly,” McCormack responded.

In an earlier exchange, Sherman had asked McCormack why he had included Shanley in dialogue about what to do with priests accused of sex abuse and whether a “safe house” should be established to house them.

McCormack said his Jan. 16, 1994 letter to Shanley mentions this because it was an idea he had discussed previously with him. He said “safe house” was Shanley’s word for what McCormack described as “a place for priests to live who couldn’t do ministry and who needed to have some kind of supervised living situation. . .”

McCormack said three places had been discussed as possibilities, a former convent, a former nursing home and a new structure on the grounds of McLean Hospital, a well-known psychiatric facility in Belmont, Mass.

Later Sherman asked McCormack why he would include in the discussions “somebody that had engaged in activities that were not only contrary to the teachings of the church, contrary to societal norms and indeed horrific and heinous. . .Why did you want to support somebody like that?”

McCormack answered, “At that time, I didn’t know how extensive his behavior was, how horrific it was. . .”


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