National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Church in Crisis
Issue Date:  April 11, 2003

Dioceses at odds over pedophile priest
San Bernardino sues Boston for not disclosing molesting priest’s background


Los Angeles

The diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., has sued the Boston archdiocese for hiding the background of accused child rapist and molester Paul Shanley, 71, a former Boston priest.

Fr. Howard Lincoln, spokesperson for the San Bernardino diocese, told NCR the suit was intended to shift to Boston any future financial damages related to Shanley’s alleged sexual abuse after he transferred to San Bernardino in 1990.

Bishop Gerald Barnes

The suit alleges that former Boston auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Banks, now bishop of Green Bay, Wis., withheld knowledge of Shanley’s history of sexual abuse when Banks wrote that Shanley was a priest “in good standing.”

Lincoln said the suit, filed recently in San Bernardino County Court, came only after San Bernardino Bishop Gerald Barnes had first “contacted the appropriate authorities in the archdiocese of Boston regarding this matter. Based on those conversations,” said Lincoln, “we believed filing this suit was the most responsible course of action.”

Last June, Boston Cardinal Bernard Law and Barnes met in private at the Dallas meeting of the U.S. bishops. Law apologized to Barnes and told him had he known of Shanley’s background the priest would not have been sent to San Bernardino.

At that time, neither Law nor Barnes knew that a San Bernardino man, Kevin English, 30, had just contacted the San Bernardino diocese regarding accusations against Shanley. The diocese was informed that English was proceeding against San Bernardino for what English’s lawyer subsequently described as “extremely reprehensible” abuse by Shanley that allegedly began when English was 17.

In Boston, where Shanley is free on bail facing sexual battery and rape charges, there was no comment on the case at NCR press time.

Lincoln said that no dollar estimates regarding a potential English case payout have been suggested, but the Los Angeles Times reported the amount could be as high as $12 million, which could bankrupt the local diocese.

The San Bernardino suit is simply one more example of how the clerical sex abuse scandal has shifted from East Coast to West:

• In Santa Barbara County March 26, new sexual abuse charges were filed against Franciscans at the now-closed Franciscan minor seminary.

• In Los Angeles County April 1, the Los Angeles archdiocese argued against the release of 2,000 pages of archdiocesan files.

This follows a March 21 decision in Los Angeles County Superior Court when Judge Elihu M. Berle ruled that several hundred Catholic clerical sex abuse cases in the Los Angeles archdiocese and the Orange diocese would be “consolidated,” brought under the jurisdiction of a single judge.

That in turn means the appointed judge will make the decision on the issue of whether the Los Angeles archdiocese must turn over all its internal documents. Records subpoenaed last year by a Los Angeles grand jury are being held by the court.

The Orange diocese has already released its records.

Regarding the consolidation of sex abuse cases, the Los Angeles Times reported March 22 that with between $150 million and $500 million in insurance “to cover wrongdoing,” consolidation would provide a possible equal payout in all cases sustained.

If the cases were tried in various courts one at a time, the early court awards would deplete the available funds.

The Times said, “Some lawyers who opposed statewide coordination argued that some issues are unique to their areas and coordination could create unnecessary delays, especially for those close to trial”-- as in a projected October trial for the Santa Barbara minor seminary case. The plaintiff’s lawyer in that case “would prefer a Santa Barbara jury.”

Paul Shanley

Some 300 new cases could be filed this year in the Los Angeles archdiocese and the Orange diocese under the California law that last year lifted the statute of limitations for calendar year 2003 on suing employers of known sexual molesters. Plaintiffs’ lawyers have filed only a half-dozen of these cases while waiting for a decision on consolidation.

Already in Los Angeles County, Superior Court Judge Peter Lichtman is weighing issues of mediation -- whether sexual abuse cases can be mediated rather than go to trial.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles County and Ventura County district attorneys continue to pursue criminal charges against former area priests and seminarians accused of molestation. In Massachusetts, former seminarian Amado Pena, 51, was recently arrested and charged with 18 counts of lewd conduct against altar boys at a Los Angeles parish.

The Ventura district attorney is filing extradition pap-ers to return from Mexico Fr. Fidencio Silva, accused by eight California men of abusing them when they were boys attending a parish in Oxnard. Silva, a Missionary of the Holy Spirit, has denied the charges. He was last known to be working at a parish in central Mexico.

Arthur Jones is NCR editor at large. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, April 11, 2003

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