The Priest vs The Firefighter: Repressed Memory and Clergy Abuse

Filed in Local News by on September 11, 2009 0 Comments


A 27 year old Boston Firefighter who levied claims of rape by a Boston “street priest” when he was six years old is facing a rebuttal from the priest’s lawyers, who say the firefighter’s claims of “repressed memories” of abuse are false.

The 78-year-old defrocked priest, Paul R. Shanley, is one of the major players in Boston’s clergy sex abuse scandal, and was known as a “street priest’’ in Boston about four decades ago, roaming the city streets to “mentor” troubled youth. He was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in 2005 for two counts of raping a child, and two counts of indecent assault and battery of a child.

The firefighter claims he had repressed his memories of abuse, which resurfaced when news of the Boston clergy sex scandal broke. Yesterday Shanley’s lawyers focused on debunking the entire psychiatric notion of “repressed memory” in an attempt to label the concept as fake scientific hogwash and discount the victim’s previous allegations.

“Overwhelming evidence proves that the theory of ‘repressed memory’ is not generally accepted by the relevant scientific community on multiple grounds and that the commonwealth’s experts provided misleading junk science testimony that should not have been admitted in a judicial proceeding,’’ said lawyer Robert F. Shaw Jr.

The theory seems to split the opinion of the academic medical world however, with one court brief by medical professionals and scientists labeling the concept as “folklore,” and another calling it a “legitimate phenomenon.”

The prosecutors defended the victim’s jumbled memories by labeling them as “dissociative amnesia,” a different label for the condition which is recognized as a valid disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. They argued that just because everyone in the medical field is not “unanimous about dissociative amnesia does not rule out its validity.’’

To rebut, Shanley’s defense lawyers called Elizabeth Loftus, a University of California professor and vocal  critic of the theory of repressed memory. In her testimony she said she does not believe that there is “any credible scientific evidence for the idea that years of brutalization can be massively repressed.” But under cross examination, she testified that traumatic memories can be forgotten and the remembered.

The courts will rule whether or nor to uphold the cases evidence within 180 days.

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