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."
There was never any formal good-bye to Shanley. "I just kind of stopped seeing him my senior year. It was getting pretty close to graduation. I just stopped going to him. I don't think he expected anything. He was always willing to see me, and every time I saw him he asked me to call him and let me know I was all right."
McLean came to California after graduating in 1975, first to Long Beach and then to San Francisco for almost 5 years. In 1980 McLean returned to Boston for 15 years, before coming back to California. "I was in Los Angeles for 2 years, then I came to San Diego. I met someone who lived here, and I didn't like Los Angeles -- it was just too congested. I wanted to stay in Southern California but not Los Angeles, so I moved down here to be with him."
McLean had no idea that Shanley had ever been involved in sexual activity with younger boys until the news stories hit last spring. "Until all this stuff broke, I still kind of thought he was an okay guy. I never even knew he was in San Diego until I saw him on the news before he was arrested. Before he was on the news in San Diego, I had friends who told me he was on the news in Boston. They said he was part of this whole Catholic Church priest thing. It really surprised me, because I really didn't think he was having sex with minors. It was all news to me.
"I was kind of disappointed. When I talk to some people, they tell me that I was violated by him, since I went to see him for counseling and it became sexual. A lot of people tell me that he took advantage of the situation, but I just don't recognize that. I was of age at the time. He must have been close to 40 then. But at the time I did it, I wanted to participate."
While McLean still believes his relationship with Shanley was good for him, he never thought of contacting Shanley when he found out the former priest was in trouble. "Too much time had passed. Plus, I was kind of shocked to find this whole side of him. I think it was kind of creepy to do what he did. I mean, he was having sex with 12-, 13-, and 14-year-old kids, and I think that's creepy. I was disappointed."
McLean abandoned the Catholic faith in college before he met Shanley and has never gone back. Now a practicing Buddhist, McLean's disdain for the Catholic Church motivated him to speak out about Shanley. "When all of this broke, I found an ad in the Boston Globe that asked for people who knew Shanley, and I contacted them. I did this because this whole thing with the Catholic Church is so hypocritical. Anything I can do to expose the hypocrisy -- you know, I grew up with the Catholic Church telling me that it was wrong to be gay. It was a thorn in my back all through high school and college. It made me slightly suicidal at times, all because of my family and their entrenchment in the Church -- and now to find out that half the priests were having not only sex -- this is what infuriates me -- that the Catholic Church was telling adult people that it was wrong for them to have consensual sex as adults, and they're not only having sex but having it with minors. To me it's just galling that they are telling people that they can't have gay sex while they're raping kids. I thought nobody would be interested in what happened to me, because I wasn't a minor. But anything I could do to help expose the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, I would be willing and glad to do."
McLean's parents were "mortified" when he finally came out to them in the early 1980s, but they grew to accept it. They also knew about Shanley and their son before he called to warn them that his name would be in a news story -- thanks to his sister stepping in ahead of him. "I knew it was going to be in the Globe, and I thought they didn't know anything about it. I told my sister a long time ago and assumed she had never told my parents, but she had. They never said anything to me because they didn't know if I knew that they knew."
If he could meet Shanley face-to-face now, McLean would express his disappointment. "I think he could have done a lot of good if he didn't do all the harmful things he did. I think he could have been a major influence on a lot of people in a good way, and it's just really sad that he had this other side of him that violated kids. If this had never happened, I would have thought he was a great guy."
McLean isn't troubled that Shanley will probably spend the rest of his life in jail. "If he was having sex with these young kids, I think he's violated them in many ways. If you're violating somebody spiritually, I think that's really low. I think he should be behind bars."