Paul Shanley, Ex-Priest in Child Sex-Abuse Scandal, Dies at 89

A former counselor for gay and troubled youths, he became a sexual predator and a central figure in a crisis that engulfed the Boston Archdiocese.

Paul R. Shanley being led away in 2005 in Middlesex County Superior Court in Cambridge, Mass., after a judge sentenced him to 12 to 15 years in prison for raping a boy in 1983.

Paul R. Shanley, a former priest who figured prominently in the child sexual abuse scandal in Boston in the early 2000s that rocked the Roman Catholic Church, has died at 89.

The police in Ware, a town in west-central Massachusetts where Mr. Shanley had lived since his release from prison in 2017, confirmed his death on Friday. WFXT-TV, Boston’s Fox News affiliate, said he died of heart failure on Oct. 28.

Mr. Shanley became well known in Boston and beyond in the 1960s and ’70s as an admired “street priest,” counseling gay and troubled youths. The journalist J. Anthony Lukas mentioned him in “Common Ground,’’ his 1985 Pulitzer Prize-winning book about Boston.

But in 2004 the Vatican defrocked him after dozens of men came forward and reported that he had sexually abused them. In 2005, he was convicted of raping a 6-year-old boy in 1983 at a suburban church where he had been pastor. He was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison.

His release in 2017 set off a firestorm of protest by some of his victims and their families.

The clergy sex-abuse scandal exploded in Boston in 2002 after The Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigation team revealed that for decades dozens of priests, including Mr. Shanley, had molested and raped children while church supervisors covered up the crimes and shuffled the priests from parish to parish. (A 2015 movie based on the investigation, “Spotlight,” won the Academy Award for best picture.)

Internal church records that were made public during the scandal indicated that Mr. Shanley had attended a forum with others who later formed the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA, a pedophile advocacy organization.

In a long article about him as the scandal unfolded in 2002, The New York Times wrote: “Interviews with Father Shanley’s accusers, his relatives and people who worked with him, as well as an examination of thousands of pages of court papers and his previously undisclosed private writings, portray a man split in two: part protector, part predator, with the church central to both roles, providing both his mission and his cover.”

A police chief who was involved in his arrest called him simply “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Paul Richard Shanley was born in 1931 in Boston in Dorchester, at the time a heavily Irish-American, working-class section of the city. His father owned a bowling alley and pool room. His mother was a legal secretary. While in high school, Paul Shanley worked as a camp counselor. He later maintained that as a 12-year-old he had been molested by a priest.

He attended St. John’s Seminary in Boston and was ordained a priest in 1960.

The Archdiocese of Boston, the fourth-largest in the United States, with more than 1.8 million Catholics, has called Mr. Shanley’s crimes against children “reprehensible.”

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