Misreading Major Cases: The Shanley-Porter Nexus


While some might think that leaving women out of picture would not matter all that much, ignoring information conveyed by female victims has led to major distortions in Spotlight reports.  The story of Christine Hickey provides a case in point.  In the unreal world that has been created by the scope of this scandal, Hickey's story stands out, not because she was raped by Fr. James Porter in 1967, but because she discussed the rape with the now infamous Fr. Paul Shanley, a mentor and family friend, in 1993.  Shanley had not known about Porter's assault on Hickey, but he did know about Porter's misconduct with other minors.  Out of concern for these children, Shanley had appealed to the Archdiocese of Boston to send Porter into treatment in 1967, around the time that Hickey was attacked.

Hickey, who lives in the Boston area, called Sacha Pfeiffer, a Spotlight reporter, and described her experience with Porter and Shanley, as well as her connections to many other predatory priests from Massachusetts.  Although Pfeiffer failed to find anything newsworthy in Hickey's information, much of it appeared about two months later on the front page of the Sunday New York Times

Given the astonishing number of victims in this scandal, the Spotlight Team's indifference to Hickey's story might seem insignificant, even if Pfeiffer's response serves to strengthen the conclusion that women's histories have been deliberately excluded from the Globe.  It is, however, impossible to dismiss the evidence of distortion provided in a strikingly similar story by Walter Robinson that ran on November 20 under the headline, Shanley Allowed to Mediate in Complaint against Priest.  In a tone of amazement, the article describes Shanley's efforts to help an unnamed male victim of the Rev. Daniel M. Graham in 1988.  In view of Shanley's known proclivities, and Shanley's own involvement with the victim, Robinson can't help but editorialize: "In nearly a year's worth of startling disclosures about the archdiocese's handling of abusive priests, the Shanley-Graham nexus is among the most bizarre."

Needless to say, people who had paid attention to Hickey's story might still find Shanley's intervention strange, but they would recognize his conduct as part of a consistent pattern of double-edged behavior that he carried on for years.  Robinson's apparent inability to register any information supplied by women thus precludes him either from communicating or--I am not sure which is worse--even understanding the crux of Shanley's story, which is that nearly all of Shanley's victims were his friends and all of his friends were victims.  But as an illustration of the defects in Spotlight reporting, the similarities between these two stories are not as telling as the differences between them: Hickey's history includes a more notorious predator, her relationship with Shanley involved a more profound breech of trust, and, of course, the story came, not from a male survivor, or from a lawyer, or from a Cardinal, but from the victim herself.


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Christine Hickey's account of Shanley's intervention in the Porter case is also missing from 'If They Knew the Madness in Me': A search for the real Rev. Paul Shanley suggests he was part hero, part horror by Sally Jacobs, Globe Staff, 7/10/2002, which was published around five months after Hickey spoke with Sacha Pfeiffer and three months after Hickey's story appeared in the Times.