Father Paul Shanley, the Roman Catholic priest who lived in San Diego from 1997 until his arrest in May of this year at his Hillcrest apartment, is currently awaiting trial in a Boston jail on rape charges. Shanley, who is accused of molesting boys, came to San Diego in 1997 after the Boston archdiocese granted him his retirement from the priesthood. As a senior volunteer patrol officer for the San Diego Police Department from 1999 to April 2002, Shanley maintained the guise of good citizen until his past caught up with him.
While many of Shanley's accusers have come forward, few of his former prey are willing to say anything good about him -- until now. William McLean, a College Area social worker, is quite comfortable discussing his youthful encounters with Shanley.
A trim, muscular man at 6´4´´ and 210 pounds, McLean's face is framed by a graying goatee. Now 48, McLean first met Shanley in 1974 when McLean was a 20-year-old junior at Bridgewater State College, about 30 miles south of Boston. "He had an ad in a weekly paper that said, 'Gay? Bi? Confused?' and at the time, it hit the nail on the head for me. That was his outreach, and he caught me with where I was at. It was what I was struggling with."
Shanley invited McLean to his Boston apartment. "I actually went to talk to him because he was a priest, and I thought he would talk me out of it -- I think I wanted to be talked out of being gay. And he did just the opposite. He said, 'It's okay to be gay. The Church, society, and everything else has told you it's not okay, but I'm telling you it's okay to be gay.' It was actually kind of good for me to hear what he had to say."
At the time, McLean's sexual struggle was his own secret. Something about Shanley, however, made McLean more comfortable. "I thought he was kind of a cool guy. He was a lot older than I thought he was at the time. I thought he was in his mid-30s, and it turns out that he was about 20 years older than me. He seemed very sophisticated to me, very with it. He didn't seem like a priest at all. He wasn't dressed like a priest, and he didn't look like one."
Shanley's seductive power quickly led the relationship into the physical realm. "I didn't have sex with him the first time we met. I just asked him, 'How do you know if you're gay if you've never had sex with someone of the same sex?' and I never had. He first suggested that I go to a gay bar -- the drinking age in Boston was 18 then -- but I said there was no way I could do that. Finally, he said, 'If you want, we could try some stuff here, like massage and that kind of stuff. That way you could see if you like touching another guy and if that's something you're into,' and I was kind of eager to do that."
After having sex with Shanley, McLean was more confused than ever. "I thought I had made a big mistake. I thought, 'I'm not gay, I want nothing to do with this,' and I had nothing to do with him again for a year. After that first time, I left very abruptly and he said, 'Don't leave so fast, I want to talk to you.' For a whole year, I just couldn't believe that I had done that; it seemed like a freaky, silly thing to me. But a year later, I was coming to a realization: 'Who are you kidding? You really are gay.' I had been struggling back and forth with this since high school. I was really coming to terms with it finally. So when I called him back a year later, he told me he was glad to hear from me because he had been worried about me. And I told him that I wanted to see him and talk to him again."
During McLean's senior year, he would have sex with Shanley about five times. "Every time, I was really glad to see him. We would talk a lot first. He was very political in his thoughts and ideas about sex and gay sex, and I wanted to hear it. It was the mid-'70s, and he was very pro-gay, pro-women. He talked about how messed up the Church was, that it was anti-woman and anti-gay. He was preaching the social/sexual politics of the time. Then I would have relations with him."
Shanley's influence was permanent, even though they would never meet or speak again after 1975. "To this day, I still think he was right on with everything he said. He told me that there was nothing wrong with gay sex. He said that I had been taught by my family, society, and the Church that it was wrong and sick and sinful -- and I had bought all of that. He said it was all untrue. He said it was natural and that a certain percentage of the population was gay and that there was nothing psychologically sick about it or anything sinful or abnormal about it. He said it was totally okay, and I was glad to hear that."
Shanley's words came at a critical time for McLean. "It was my senior year, and I knew at that point that when I graduated, I was going to move right to California and come out. I didn't want to come out in Boston. Through the course of talking to him, I became more and more convinced that he was right. He told me that California was a better place for gay people than Boston -- especially San Francisco."
The reminders of his Catholic youth were just too pervasive at home. "I was brought up there, and the whole city was like the Catholic Church to me. It almost didn't matter what it was like in reality. In retrospect, [I realize] Boston is a pretty liberal, progressive city, but to this day, I don't want to live there."