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Priest Charged in California with Rape of a Child - 2002-05-02

Police in San Diego, California, have arrested a Roman Catholic priest who is at the center of a sex scandal in Boston. The Reverend Paul Shanley is being charged with the rape of a child.

Police took the 71-year-old priest into custody Thursday morning on a warrant issued by prosecutors in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He faces three counts of child rape.

Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley says that over a seven-year period ending in 1990, the priest molested a boy at his parish in Newton, Massachusetts. The boy told prosecutors the abuse began when he was six, when the priest removed him with other children from a religious training class on an almost-weekly basis.

"They would be removed from the class," she said. "The priest would take them to one of three locations: to the bathroom, often across the street to the rectory, or to the confessional. And that is where the sexual abuse would occur. The young man disclosed that Father Shanley said to him that if he told, no one would believe him, and he believed that at the time."

The young man making the accusation is now 24 years old. Normally, the statute of limitations would make prosecution impossible after so many years. But under Massachusetts law, a child-abuser can be charged if the abuse is reported within 10 years of the child's 16th birthday. The prosecutor says there are additional "credible witnesses" to the priest's misconduct.

Father Shanley's case is one of the most notorious in a scandal that has engulfed the Catholic in Boston and elsewhere. According to records released by Boston's Catholic archdiocese, church officials knew of the priest's involvement in an organization that advocates sex between men and boys. Church officials received dozens of complaints, but did not notify their counterparts in San Bernardino, California, when the priest was transferred there in 1990.

In addition to facing criminal charges, Father Shanley is at the center of a civil lawsuit. 24-year-old Gregory Ford and his parents are suing the Boston archdiocese and Cardinal Bernard Law for negligence for allowing the priest to work in Massachusetts.

Cardinal Law has resisted calls that he resign and last month, he and other U.S. Catholic leaders met with Pope John Paul II to discuss the growing scandal in the American branch of the church.