Back to Salem: Paul Shanley and the Return of "Recovered Memory"; Ward Churchill’s Genes (Cont.); Gannon and Gay Closetry in the Bush White House; Tsunami Relief and Australia

Off goes former Father Paul Shanley to state prison in Massachusetts for twelve to fifteen years, convicted of “digitally raping” and otherwise sexually abusing Paul Busa two decades ago. Shanley’s now 74; the earliest he can hope for parole is when he’s 82, at which point the DA could determine that he is still, though frail, “a sexually dangerous person” and should be confined for whatever years remain. A DA in Massachusetts exercised just that option in the case of another ex-priest, James Porter, who was released last year after pleading guilty in 1993 to molesting twenty-eight children. At the time of his death in February at the age of 70, Porter was in civil confinement, with the state seeking to keep him behind bars indefinitely.

So Shanley must know that most likely he will never see the light of day, unless through a barred window. He has more pressing concerns, namely the distinct possibility that he will be murdered in prison, a hope expressed by more than one person present at his sentencing, where Christian compassion, always rationed in Massachusetts, was in short supply. “I want him to die in prison, whether it’s of natural causes or otherwise. However he dies, I hope it’s slow and painful,” declared Shanley’s accuser, Paul Busa, a 27-year-old firefighter, in a written statement read in court.

The menacing words “or otherwise” were no doubt intended to evoke the fate of John Geoghan, a priest sent to a Massachusetts prison in 2002 for fondling a 10-year-old. Although Geoghan was being kept in “protective custody,” he was strangled to death by a man serving a life term for killing a gay man. There have been allegations that prison guards were complicit in his murder. Paul Busa’s father, Richard, is a corrections officer, and other relatives, including Paul’s wife, are in Massachusetts law enforcement.

In his written statement Busa said that Shanley “is a founding member of NAMBLA and openly advocated sex between men and little boys.” It’s this supposed distinction, as the man who created the North American Man Boy Love Association, that has earned Shanley his throne in the Ninth Circle of the damned. It was one of the credentials in his résumé as presented in a two-and-a-half-hour PowerPoint presentation to the press in April 2002 by Roderick MacLeish Jr., the personal-injury lawyer representing Busa. At that presentation MacLeish released Shanley’s ample diocesan file to the media, which hurriedly repeated MacLeish’s allegations without pausing to scrutinize the file.

Had they done so, they would have found nothing to buttress the claims that Shanley founded NAMBLA, or was ever a member, or had ever advocated sex between men and little boys, or had a thirty-year record of child abuse complaints made against him or a history of being moved from parish to parish. Yet all these allegations have become the common currency of Shanley’s biography, and if guards usher a murderer into his cell, the killer will probably have the NAMBLA charge at the top of his mind. Shanley’s defense counsel, Frank Mondano, has said that during jury selection every potential juror was aware of the Shanley scandal, and what they most commonly “knew” was that Shanley was somehow involved with NAMBLA.

When my colleague JoAnn Wypijewski began to report on the Shanley case in 2002, the first thing she did was read the 1,600-page diocesan file that MacLeish had brandished. It became clear to JoAnn that in a case that had consumed the press, most conspicuously the Boston Globe, which ran almost daily stories on the priest scandal for years, she seems to have been the only reporter to have taken the trouble to look at the church dossier.

What she found in the documents were many, many pages of Shanley’s fervent defense of homosexuality as a normal human variation and the uproar these arguments provoked in the Church. (Shanley, like many in his generation, found support for his assertions in Alfred Kinsey’s 1950s sex surveys.) In terms of sexual abuse, the Church file has one complaint from the 1960s, which Shanley denied and his superior, rightly or wrongly, determined to be baseless; then nothing until the early 1990s, when a few accusers imputed various abuses to the priest dating back to the 1960s or ’70s.

But nowhere was there any support for the claim that Shanley was a founder of NAMBLA or had attended a NAMBLA meeting; JoAnn, despite many discoveries about Shanley’s active sex life as a priest, found no external evidence to back the charge. For her fascinating report on Shanley, see the September/October 2004 issue of Legal Affairs and jw01292005.html.

What landed Shanley in prison was not anything in the Church’s file but the uncorroborated “recovered memories” of one man, Paul Busa. This case is a throwback to the early 1990s and before, when people were put behind bars for lifetimes on the basis of memories elicited by leading questions of psychotherapists. Ultimately, after years of patient effort by a few journalists, psychoanalysts, psychological researchers and advocates for justice, “recovered memory” as a tool of the latter-day Inquisition fell into well-deserved disrepute. In the state that gave us Salem in the seventeenth century and the Amiraults (all wrongly sent to prison on charges brought by Middlesex county DA Martha Coakley) in the twentieth, Shanley’s case has reintroduced recovered memory to the courtrooms of the twenty-first.

In Shanley’s trial, prosecution witnesses would not confirm Busa’s claim that he was regularly taken from religious-instruction classes by Shanley. Nor would they confirm that they had ever seen the priest alone with Busa, or had seen anything untoward in the years 1983-89, during which Busa claims abuse. These claims were based on memories that became active in 2002, following Busa’s conversation with his girlfriend about the nearly identical recovered memories of his friend Gregory Ford. Ford was dropped by the prosecution in the same case, as were two others, their stories apparently deemed by the DA too vexed for courtroom use.

No facts relative to the charges intruded into the courtroom; only emotion. Superior Court Judge Stephen Neel should have dismissed the charges, as requested by the defense. In the atmosphere of Massachusetts it would have taken courage to do that, and truly extraordinary courage for anyone on the jury (which included a therapist) to have insisted that memories are not evidence, and that there was far more than reasonable doubt in this case.

Churchill’s Genes and Jews in Nazi Germany

Dear Mr Cockburn,

As someone writing form Germany, the possibility of misunderstanding me is great, but I risk the following comment nonetheless – purely for the sake of accuracy:

In your article you stated:

“I couldn’t care less if Churchill is 100 per cent Indian, or 3/16ths Cherokee, which is what I believe he says is his Indian component. Didn’t the Nazis kill people for that amount of Jewish blood in their veins?”

According to the Nürnberg laws (and in actual practice) one could lead a normal life (to the extent one could call life in Nazi Germany “normal”) with one-quarter “Jewish blood” – provided one was raised with no ties to Judaism, Jewish organizations, etc. One couldn’t join the NSDAP or the SS, but one had the normal rights and duties (military, etc.) of a German citizen. I personally know many “quarter Jews” who lived “normal” lives (which included things like years as a German POW in the Soviet Union) in the Third Reich.

There were even jokes at the time about the Jewish grandmother being the most beloved member of a family – for the culture and money she brought with her – without being a danger…

Arguments are stronger when they are accurate – even as concerns the most inhuman society in known history…

Karl Brehmer, Ph.D.
Rostock, Germany

The Gannon Scandal

It’s early days yet, but the Gannon affair bears all the marks of being a ripe and delicious scandal with long-term potential. Perhaps because of the confluence between rightwing attitudes and sexual repression there’s always been an equation in Washington between closetry and the ranker reaches of the fascist mindset. The Gannon scandal has all the right ingredients: a fake journalist (how could they tell?), with militarystud as one of his email addresses; a supposed breach in national security; intimations of gay closetry in the upper reaches of the Bush White House (and I doubt Laura Bush will prove as protective a den mother as Nancy Reagan). This weekend CBS links Gannon with Karl Rove and there have been some alleged sightings of Bush spokesman Scott McLellan in the gay bars of Austin, where there’s always confusion on exactly what lies behind those manly Wranglers. What better commentator could one hope to find on this matter than a gay, anti-war libertarian. And so without further ado we usher you to our friend Justin Raimondo, who is indeed a gay, anti-war libertarian. Take a look at his uproarious resume of the Gannon Affair.

Tsunami Relief and Australia:
More Than You May Ever Want To Know

Date: February 16, 2005 7:38:18 PM PST
Subject: Tsuami Relief

western australia

Your figures on Austalian contributions to Tsunami relief are wrong. Some weeks ago the BBC broadcast similar figures and subsequently broadcast a correction which was also wrong The population of Australia is 22 million. Contributions from the public have totalled 350 million. The Australian government have contributed 1.1 billion. A billion in Aust. and the U.K has more zeros than the USA billion. So you do the calculations. The real story in Aust. is what effect this will have on contributions to other charities this year

Date: February 17, 2005 7:41:38 AM PST

Thanks for this. Mine came via Rachard Itani from The London Observer. I’ll correct them.

Best Alex C

On 17-Feb-05, at 10:42 AM, ALEXANDER COCKBURN wrote:

Rachard, I wrote back to the guy saying I’d do a little correction in a CP piece I did quoting you. Cd you do your calculations again for Australia? Best Alex

Date: February 17, 2005 1:00:11 PM PST


The calculations and figures quoted in the article and used by you in quoting it were not wrong at the time of writing. We live in a dynamic world in which numbers change constantly. These include population numbers, donations promised and donations actually delivered.

Having said that, I’m afraid that some of the figures quoted by the registrar are factually wrong.

1- The population of Australia is reported at “19,913,144 (July 2004 Est.)” by the CIA World Fact Book, as good a source as any for general purposes. ( The Australian Government’s own bureau of statistics reports the country’s population “on 18 February 2005 at 06:24:56 (Canberra time)” to be “20,267,299”. (The figure changes every second on that site: So, the 22 million figure advanced by “registrar.powell” does not correspond to his or her own government’s officially published statistics. The 20,267,299 figure, by the way, according to the Australian government’s bureau of statistics, is a “projection based on the estimated resident population at 30th June 2004 and assumes… an overall population increase of one person every 2 minutes and 9 seconds.” The Factbook figures are also an estimate as of July 2004, which means that the fact-book actually overstates Australia’s population by 3.467 million people according to the Australian government’s methodology. (Working backwards, this methodology leads us to calculate that the Australian government estimated the country’s population to be about 16,799,913 as of July 2004.)

2- It would be totally meaningless to do so now, but were we to use the registrar’s figure of 22 million Australians as of July 2004, the Australian contribution per head of population would have dropped from $5.23 to $4.733. Australian private donations may have reached $350 million by the time the registrar wrote, but I fail to see the significance of this. Private donations from all of the other countries listed in the article have also increased by now, and in fact, donations from private and public sources in other countries have also not only increased, but would in some cases completely alter the rankings quoted in the article. But so what? The ranking was not the object nor the central theme of the article. It was mainly used to show how confused people can be when reacting to disaster, and how little reason they use.

3- The Australian government HAS NOT “contributed $1.1 billion” as the registrar states: it has perhaps pledged $1.1 billion, an altogether different proposition. Based on consistent past experience, only a minute fraction of this figure is ever likely to be actually disbursed, and will most likely be disbursed to the wrong people, on the wrong projects, and may in fact consist of nothing but soft loans, or payments to Australian consultants, aid personnel, etc. It would also be interesting in this respect to find out whether this official pledged figure includes the cost of “military” involvement, i.e. the cost to get them to and from the tsunami relief areas, etc. Aid should be what actually reaches the people. (In calculating foreign aid, beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.)

3- I’m not sure whether the registrar is speaking in Australian or American dollars. If he’s using Australian dollars, he should adjust his numbers downward by approximately one third. Also, a”billion in Australian and the U.K.” does not have “more zeroes than the USA billion.” In both cases, it amounts to one thousand million, or 1,000,000,000. A total donation of $350 million by private Australian individuals would amount to $17.27 per capita if quoted in US dollars, or to about $13.70 if converted into U.S. dollars. If one were only interested in a contest of donation rankings between countries (which would be a sad commentary on the human condition) one would have to update the table used as a reference in my article.

I could go back and update the whole table, but I trust you would agree that this would be a waste of time, especially since the article only uses the tsunami donations to question people’s morality (if not their ability to use reason) when reacting to different kind of disasters, natural vs. man-made. How much a particular country’s population has given, or government has pledged, is another story altogether. However, if you would still like me to do so, I’d be happy to try updating the figures, even though by now the figures probably make no sense. From the many comments that I have received, it is interesting how most Americans who reacted to the article were stuck on the figures, and most non-Americans got the argument for what it was: a comment on morality, reason, and misplaced or at least confused human compassion. Your own comments that quoted my article were absolutely right on. I’d be nearly tempted to write a commentary on how irate and irrational most American comments have been in reaction to the news that “they are not most definitely number one, the best, the most, the ultimest…” but that was not my object in the first place, and I would do so only within the context of another commentary that would require such a comparison, not as an exercise in “American hatred”, as many Americans who e-mailed back comments have suggested. Israelis and Americans have both fallen into the trap of equating any analysis or criticism of government action or socio-political issues affecting their propagandist self-image as either anti-semitism or anti-americanism! It seems that some people read CP or similar sites for the sole purpose of jumping on any analytic criticism, taking it out of context, and trying to squash it.

4- Finally, I agree with the registrar that “the real story”, whether in Australia and elsewhere, is indeed “what effect this will have on contributions to other charities this year.” People have most definitely over-given and badly given to the tsunami “victims” and many will have little disposable income to give to other more pressing, prevalent and endemic disasters that they consistently all but ignore (e.g. infectious diseases that kill multi-millions every year) which was the gist of my argument.


Footnote: I wrote the first item in this column on Shanley’s fate right after his sentencing and it ran in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday.

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.