January 15, 2010
By John R. Ellement and Jonathan Saltzman, Globe staff

Defrocked Roman Catholic priest Paul Shanley today lost his appeal before the state’s high court, ensuring that a key figure in the priest abuse scandal that rocked the Boston Archdiocese will remain behind bars.

(Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/file)

The Supreme Judicial Court upheld Shanley’s convictions for two counts of rape and two counts of indecent assault and battery obtained by Middlesex prosecutors in 2005. The victim first made his accusations against Shanley in 2002, some 20 years after the abuse took place at St. Jean’s Church in Newton when the boy was between the ages of 6 and 11.

The SJC rejected defense attorney Robert F. Shaw Jr.’s contention that Shanley’s trial was flawed because the "junk science” of "repressed memory" was used by prosecutors to explain that long gap.

"Overwhelming evidence proves that the theory of ‘repressed memory’ is not generally accepted by the relevant scientific community on multiple grounds and that the commonwealth’s experts provided misleading junk science testimony that should not have been admitted in a judicial proceeding,” Shaw wrote in the brief filed last year with the SJC.

Prosecutors had argued that the victim should be believed because the emotional trauma he suffered created a "disassociative amnesia,” which is recognized by the mental health profession as a legitimate psychiatric disorder.

Shanley was known in the 1960s and 1970s as a "street priest" who reached out to troubled youth, roamed Boston’s streets in blue jeans, and was an outspoken backer of gay rights. He was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison.

According to the state Department of Correction website, Shanley today is being held at the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater, a medium security prison.

Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Robert J. Cordy concluded prosecutors had amassed strong backing for the concept of "disassociative amnesia” from mental health experts and that Superior Court Judge Stephen Neel made the right decision when he let the jury learn about it.

"In sum, the judge’s finding that the lack of scientific testing did not make unreliable the theory that an individual may experience disassociative amnesia was supported in the record, not only by expert testimony but by a wide collection of clinical observations and a survey of academic literature,” Cordy wrote.

The SJC also rejected Shanley’s claim that his trial lawyer, Frank Mondano, was ineffective and Shanley should now get a new trial to overcome his flaws.

"Essentially, the defendant alleges that had counsel done better work…the outcome would have been different,” Cordy wrote. "In support of his motion for a new trial, the defendant submitted three affidavits from experts, and more than fifty scholarly articles, surveys, and studies, some of which were peer reviewed, questioning the existence of repressed memory.

But the court concluded that Mondano "pursued a dynamic, multi-faceted trial strategy that did not rely solely on challenging the admission of the expert testimony, but also on exploring the factual deficiencies in the victim’s version of events and by impeaching his credibility and his motivations.”