Prosecutors told a judge Thursday that an alleged victim of defrocked priest Paul Shanley (search) might refuse to testify if he is publicly identified during the upcoming sexual abuse trial.

That would mean the end of the criminal case against one of the most notorious figures in the Boston Archdiocese's (search) sex scandal, Assistant District Attorney Lynn Rooney said.

The disclosure came during a hearing in Superior Court on whether the media should be allowed to report the alleged victim's name during Shanley's trial.

The Associated Press, the Boston Herald and The Boston Globe have challenged a judge's order issued earlier this week barring the media from identifying alleged victims in the case. The order was issued at prosecutors' request.

In the three years since Shanley was arrested on child sex charges, two of the four alleged victims have spoken publicly about the case and were routinely identified in news reports. A third alleged victim has occasionally been identified. The fourth was never named.

Over the past year, prosecutors dropped two alleged victims from the case, and plan to drop a third, leaving just one accuser when Shanley goes on trial Jan. 18.

"If there's a paper later today that puts this person's name out there ... it is likely I will be back before the court telling you that we are unable to go forward," Rooney told Judge Stephen Neel.

Attorneys for the three news organizations argued that the alleged victim had willingly given interviews to the media and had allowed his name and photograph to be published. They said the judge's order violates the First Amendment.

"This individual had in fact waived this privacy interest. His photograph appeared all over the place with his consent. He made a conscious decision to put his name out there," said Robert A. Bertsche, representing the Globe and the AP. The AP has a policy of not identifying rape victims if they wish to remain anonymous.

The judge did not immediately rule. He did drop a portion of the ruling that ordered news organizations to remove the accuser's name from their archives.