False Witness


Dear Mr. Cavanaugh,

The attached is from the "Gay" magazine The Guide. Its not that it is the best account of your country's Salem Witch-Hunt (I will send you details of better ones). Its just that they cannot possibly be accused of making excuses for the Catholic Church. (I see they also have an article this month).

Will you defend this lunacy or (more likely) will you ignore it and the questions is raises about anti-clerical "liberals"?


Rory Connor

Dear Mr. Cavanaugh,

Summary follows. Plenty of material for an article on the effects of anti-clericalism. It's not so much that I expect journalists like yourself to disagree. What I expect is that you will remain silent and let the Witch-Hunters run riot. You don't actually believe what they are saying but they are attacking your enemies and that's all that counts.

Is that correct?

Rory Connor

I never turn down a challenge, Rory! The articles you refer to can be be found here, and though they're a bit out of date, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick (whose article on this topic I came across just before I got your email yesterday—divine intervention?) covered some of the same ground in covering the actual case against Paul Shanley.

So, in case anybody out there doesn't know, Shanley, recently sentenced to 12-to-15 years in prison for child rape, was convicted solely on the basis of recovered-memory testimony; three of his four accusers were dropped as unreliable, and the one remaining accuser had ample opportunity to coordinate his tale with the stories of at least two of the others (boyhood friends of his); no witnesses were able to corroborate any of the accusations, in whole or in part, and to the degree that there was forensic evidence, it would seem to clear Shanley (for reasons too complicated to go into here, and which did not involve Shanley at all, one of the boys actually had his cloacal region examined by a doctor at the time of the alleged crimes, and no evidence of abuse was found); Shanley appears to have had an active and varied sex life, which was widely distorted and misreported in press accounts; he was not actually a member of NAMBLA; nothing in Shanley's 1,600-page personnel file from the Boston Archdiocese supports any of the claims made about him prior to and during his trial… For more information, read JoAnn Wypijewski's coverage of the case, and since on the internet a thousand-word screed is worth a million pictures, don't miss Alexander Cockburn's post-sentencing hit.

For what it's worth, I have consistently believed, and written, that the real scandal here has been about management; what made the RCC sex-abuse story of 2002 take off wasn't the behavior of accused priests but the loony personnel decisions high-ranking church officials seemed to be making. That applies here as well: If they didn't think Shanley was guilty they should have defended him instead of shuffling him around and then throwing him to the wolves when he got too hot. However, I didn't pay any attention to the details of the Shanley case beyond noting that he had "multiple accusers" and a "30-year history" of allegations, both of which turn out to be largely chimerical.

But hey, way back in 2002 I was warning about the possibility of a witch hunt: When a priest in Baltimore was shot by a guy who claims the priest had molested him, a New York Times reporter astoundingly referred to the shooter as the "victim," and I called bullshit on that. And as it turns out, that Times reporter's name was…Jayson Blair?

And now you know…the rrrrest of the story!