August 28, 2016
Spotlight received many accolades. The New York Times called it “a gripping detective story and a superlative newsroom drama, a solid procedural that tries to confront evil without sensationalism.” Spotlight later won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie portrays the journalistic effort, by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team, to uncover widespread abuse by Catholic priests and the related cover-up by their superiors. Paul Shanley, one of the offenders highlighted in the movie, was described in the Globe as coming “to symbolize the alleged failure of the Archdiocese of Boston to control sexually abusive priests.”
Shanley’s eventual arrest and conviction is often hailed as evidence of how far we have come in acknowledging and confronting child sexual abuse in America. Maybe so. But there is an advocacy organization that still defends Shanley, minimizing or denying in its entirety his “trail of abuse,” as Maureen Orth put it in this article in Vanity Fair. The so-called National Center for Reason and Justice “sponsors” Shanley’s case notwithstanding 19 affidavits from Shanley’s victims. They stand with JoAnn Wypijewski, who acknowledges (near the very end of this lengthy, pseudo-defense) that these affidavits “present an alarming picture of a priest obsessed with sex; one of who exploited school settings or counseling sessions to make conquests.” She even allows that these accounts convey “clearly manipulative” behavior but she objects that 16-year-old boys are “capable of consenting” – adding “Regrets don’t negate the choice.” As to the 14-year-old boy, well, Wypijewski notes that he went back five or six times as well. She does not address his obvious inability to consent under law.
Paul Shanley has come to represent the failure of the Archdiocese of Boston to control sexually abusive priests. He also stands for something equally important to remember: the continued tolerance of such behavior by misguided advocates who stand with the convicted even in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt.