Sex Abuse Trial Begins for Ex-Priest Shanley

Prosecutors formally dropped an accuser from the criminal case against defrocked priest Paul Shanley (search), leaving just one alleged victim to testify in the trial that began Tuesday for one of the most notorious figures in the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Prosecutors already had dropped two other accusers from the case, and removed the third because they have been unable to find him since a hearing in October when he had difficulty remaining composed to testify. The move to drop him from the case was widely expected.

The witness' removal leaves Shanley, 73, facing three charges of raping a child and two charges of indecent assault and battery on a child. The maximum sentence would be life in prison.

About 80 prospective jurors were questioned Tuesday for the trial that is expected to last about two weeks. Four jurors — three men and one woman — were seated before proceedings ended for the day.

Shanley's lawyer, Frank Mondano, has made it clear he will argue that the lone remaining accuser made up his story of abuse to win a monetary award in a civil lawsuit.

The trial is one of a handful of criminal cases that prosecutors have been able to bring against priests accused of molesting their young parishioners decades ago.

Most of the priests accused in civil lawsuits have avoided criminal prosecution because the alleged crimes were committed so long ago that charges were barred by the statute of limitations. But because Shanley moved out of Massachusetts, the clock stopped, allowing prosecutors to arrest him in May 2002 for sexual abuse that allegedly took place between 1979 and 1989.

Internal church documents showed church officials knew about allegations against him as early as 1967 yet continued to transfer him from parish to parish. Shanley, once a long-haired priest in blue jeans who reached out to Boston's troubled youth in the late '60s, was defrocked by the Vatican in 2004.

His accusers told stories of being taken out of religious education classes and raped by Shanley, in the church rectory, confessional and restroom.

All of the alleged victims settled civil lawsuits with the Boston Archdiocese (search) in April 2004. The exact monetary terms were not disclosed, but an attorney for the men has said each received more than $300,000. That was the maximum settlement received by 550 other alleged abuse victims received in an $85 million settlement reached with the archdiocese in September 2003.

Prosecutors have asked Judge Stephen Neel (search) to bar Shanley's defense from introducing evidence of the civil settlement. The judge has not yet ruled on the request.

Shanley's defense also plans to challenge the man's claims of repressed memories. The man said he did not remember the abuse until after the clergy scandal erupted in Boston three years ago.

The notoriety of both the scandal and the defendant could make picking a jury difficult. Neel has set aside four days for jury selection.