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Backers, accusers may have a stake in sexual abuse trial

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – He was one of the most notorious figures in the sexual abuse scandal that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church, but the trial of defrocked priest Paul Shanley has been a low-key affair, drawing only a smattering of spectators.

A few supporters have shown up, offering him a handshake or an occasional cup of coffee during breaks in the testimony. Some of his alleged victims have listened as his now-adult accuser testified the priest took him out of Catholic education classes to molest him.

What they see is not the once charismatic, long-haired “street priest” hailed for befriending the downtrodden, but a frail 74-year-old man wearing a hearing aid, remaining stoic as the most graphic of allegations unfolded during the two-week trial. The jury began deliberating the case on Thursday, and is to resume work Monday.

Shanley is accused of repeatedly raping and fondling a boy from 1983 to 1989 at St. Jean’s church in Newton, beginning when the boy was 6. His accuser, now a 27-year-old firefighter, testified that he repressed memories of the abuse until three years ago, when the clergy sexual abuse crisis exploded and he read about a friend’s allegations of abuse against Shanley.

Shanley faces up to life in prison if convicted.

One of the men who watched the trial said he went to see Shanley for counseling 30 years ago at age 15, after his first homosexual experience.

“We had sex the first time I saw him. … It was an ongoing thing until age 22 or 23,” said the man, who was one of more than 500 people who settled lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003 as part of an $85 million settlement.

Bill Gately, who said he was molested by another priest in the 1960s, sat in on two days of the trial.

Others came to court to support Shanley.

Paul Shannon met him more than 30 years ago when Shannon was a Jesuit seminarian. Shannon, who attended every day of the trial, said he believes his friend is a victim of hysteria over the clergy sexual abuse scandal that erupted in Boston in January 2002 – four months before Shanley was arrested in California.

Shannon believes it will be impossible for Shanley to get a fair trial because of the extensive media coverage of his case and three years of continuous coverage of the scandal in which the state attorney general concluded at least 1,000 children had been molested by more than 230 priests since the 1940s in Boston.

Shanley became a focal point of the scandal after plaintiffs’ attorneys forced the church to release internal records about him. Among the records were documents indicating that he was transferred from parish to parish after allegations surfaced, and that he had attended a forum with other people who later went on to form the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA. Shanley’s trial has also attracted lawyers who represent people accusing Shanley and other priests of sexually abusing children.

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