Wisconsin Bishop Defends Decision in Shanley Case

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Press, carried in [Boston MA]
January 13, 2003

BOSTON (AP) A bishop accused of mishandling sexual abuse allegations against two central figures in the Boston clergy sexual abuse scandal acknowledged writing a letter to California church officials vouching for one of the clergymen despite a complaint that the priest had spoken graphically about sadomasochism.

Bishop Robert J. Banks, now bishop of Green Bay, Wis., said he did not know of any sexual abuse allegations against the Rev. Paul Shanley when he wrote a letter of recommendation for him in 1990.

Banks said he discounted a complaint from a patient at a psychiatric hospital who said Shanley ''came on'' to him by talking about sadomasochism. Banks told the patient that Shanley denied the allegation.

Banks served as an auxiliary bishop and vicar for administration under Cardinal Bernard Law from 1984 to 1990. He is accused in civil lawsuits of mishandling allegations against Shanley, now-defrocked priest John J. Geoghan and other priests. Transcripts from two days of depositions in the Shanley case were released publicly Monday.

When questioned by Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer for alleged victims of Shanley, about the letter he wrote to the Diocese of San Bernadino, Calif., Banks said he did not consider the man's claim an allegation of sexual abuse.

Banks said that when he questioned Shanley about the alleged incident, he became ''irate'' and then said he couldn't recall the conversation he had with the man. Banks said he then dropped the matter.

''I felt that the person could do something if he wanted to and that he could speak to the hospital authorities,'' Banks said.

''You felt that as far as the Church was concerned, the matter was concluded and there was nothing you could do?'' asked MacLeish.

''That's right,'' replied Banks.

Banks was deposed over two days in November 2002 by lawyers for three men who claim in civil lawsuits that they were sexually abused by Shanley at St. Jean's parish in Newton between 1979 and 1989.

Shanley has also been charged criminally in those cases. He has pleaded innocent to 10 counts of child rape and six counts of indecent assault and battery.

In the deposition, Banks also acknowledged that in 1985 three years before his meeting with the patient he had seen a copy of a letter sent to church officials by a Rochester, N.Y., woman who said she had heard Shanley give a talk in which he said that in pedophelia, the child is the seducer, not the adults.

Banks was asked why, knowing about the two complaints, he did not send Shanley for a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether it was safe for him to continue working as a priest at St. Jean's parish.

''As far as I was concerned, he talked too freely about sex. That was the problem,'' Banks said.

Banks also noted that Shanley had been assigned to work with the gay community and to do street ministry.

''Therefore, it did not surprise me that he would speak more freely about sex than the ordinary person,'' Banks said.

Renae Wuerger, a spokeswoman for the Green Bay diocese, said Banks was out of his office Monday and would be gone for much of the week. The diocese had no comment on the release of the deposition, she said.

Banks also was questioned about several other priests who were allowed to continue in parish ministry.

He said that when an allegation was received, there was no policy to search the accused priest's personnel files to see if there had been previous allegations.

''I didn't think it was necessary. One allegation was enough for me to find out whether or not this person had a serious problem,'' Banks said.

Banks also said he assumed that if there had been prior allegations, the priest would have been removed already.

''Perhaps I was naive,'' Banks said.

Banks will reach retirement age for priests when he turns 75 next month. He said in October that he plans to offer his resignation to Pope John Paul II on his birthday, Feb. 26.

Editor's Note: Denise Lavoie is a Boston-based reporter covering the courts and legal issues.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.