By Greg Frost
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Reuters) – Defrocked priest Paul Shanley was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison on Tuesday for raping a boy in the 1980s in one of the most high-profile cases to stem from a U.S. Catholic clergy abuse scandal.
During a sentencing hearing, Shanley’s accuser, now a 27-year-old firefighter, described the convicted former priest as a «monster» and «the lowest of the low.» Judge Stephen Neel ordered the 74-year-old Shanley to serve 12 to 15 years in prison, followed by a decade of probation.
There was scattered applause when the elderly Shanley was escorted from the packed courtroom in leg irons.
In sentencing Shanley, Neel said he had considered mitigating factors such as the lack of a criminal record and the numerous people who testified to his good work as a priest. But he also noted that Shanley had used his role as a priest to facilitate his crimes.
«It is difficult to imagine a more egregious misuse of authority than that which occurred in this case,» Neel said.
The offenses occurred when the boy was six to 12 years old.
Neel said Shanley would be eligible for parole after completing two-thirds of his sentence, but Frank Mondano, Shanley’s defense attorney, said he was worried Shanley could die in prison «given his age and frailty.»
He also expressed concern about his client’s safety behind bars — especially after John Geoghan, another defrocked priest at the center of the clergy abuse scandal that rocked the Archdiocese of Boston, was slain in prison in 2003 by a fellow inmate.
«Hopefully the Department of Corrections is up to the task,» Mondano told reporters, adding he will appeal both the sentence and the conviction.
The department said Shanley was taken to a prison in Concord, Massachusetts, where officials will determine the facility in which he will serve his sentence. The department declined to comment further on Shanley’s case.
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A jury found Shanley guilty last week of raping and molesting a boy in the 1980s at a Boston-area church. The case hinged on memories that the accuser said he recovered in 2002.
During the trial, the accuser said Shanley had taken him out of weekly religion classes and taught him how to perform oral sex. The abuse occurred in a bathroom, the front pews of the church and even in the confessional where Catholics admit their sins, the man said.
The accuser, who has asked that he not be identified in the media, said during the sentencing that Shanley’s conviction ended a long, painful chapter in his life. Still, he expressed hatred for the man who raped and molested him.
«I’m gonna tell you why this monster must spend the rest of his life in prison,» the accuser said in a statement read aloud by prosecutor Lynn Rooney. «He is the lowest of the low.»
The accuser, who according to prosecutors was disappointed Shanley did not receive a life sentence, said he wants the ex-priest to die behind bars. «However he dies, I hope it is slow and painful,» he said.
Shanley was given the chance to speak at the sentencing, but declined. However, his friend Paul Shannon called the sentence and the conviction a travesty and defended the former priest to reporters afterward.
«My life is better because I knew Paul Shanley,» he said.
Prosecutors said if Shanley is eventually released from prison they will seek to have him committed under civil law as a sexually dangerous predator.
The Vatican defrocked Shanley last year, more than two decades after his superiors received complaints about the priest’s views on sex between men and boys.
Internal church documents released in 2002 showed the Boston Archdiocese knew in 1979 that Shanley had attended a meeting of men involved in sexual relationships with boys — a meeting that gave rise to NAMBLA, the North American Man Boy Love Association.
By Greg Frost