Shanley Faces One Accuser in Abuse Trial

The criminal case against a defrocked Roman Catholic priest at the center of the Boston Archdiocese (search) sex scandal now hinges on the allegations of a single accuser.

Prosecutors formally dropped a third accuser on Tuesday, leaving just one from the original four alleged victims of Paul Shanley (search). The move to drop the accuser from the case was widely expected.

That leaves Shanley, 73, facing three charges of raping a child and two charges of indecent assault and battery on a child. The maximum sentence is life in prison.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks. Questioning of prospective jurors began Tuesday, and by late morning Wednesday, seven jurors had been seated.

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.

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.

Shanley became a key figure in the scandal as the archdiocese released personnel files showing that he had publicly advocated sex between men and boys. The files revealed that officials were aware of complaints against him as early as 1967, but they continued to transfer him from parish to parish.

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 lawsuits with the Boston Archdiocese in April 2004. The exact monetary terms were not disclosed, but an attorney for the men has said each received more than $300,000.

Prosecutors have asked Judge Stephen Neel 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.