The Archdiocese of Boston knew that one of its priests, now accused of rape, spoke in favor of sex between men and boys at a 1979 meeting that apparently led to the founding of a national group advocating the practice, according to court documents released Monday.

The documents also show that archdiocese officials knew of sexual misconduct allegations against the priest, the Rev. Paul Shanley, since at least 1967, but continued to give him access to children in different parishes for three decades.

The documents also show that Vatican officials had been told as early as 1979 about Shanley's teachings on homosexuality. He continued to serve as a parish priest for several years after that.

"All of the suffering that has taken place at the hands of Paul Shanley, a serial child molester for four decades — three of them in Boston — none of it had to happen," said Roderick MacLeish, an attorney for the family of alleged abuse victim Gregory Ford, 24.

The archdiocese, in a statement, said it "has learned from the painful experience of the inadequate polices and procedures of the past" but said church officials were confident that current policies "are focused in a singular way on the protection of children."

"Whatever may have occurred in the past, there were no deliberate decisions to put children at risk," said the statement from spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey.

Rodney Ford, Gregory's father, fought back tears as he pointed to a slide of his son as a youngster, grinning as he shimmied up a pole.

"That's my son at age six. Look at how happy he was. Shanley took his innocence. How would you feel?" he asked. "That could be your children, but he's mine."

Shanley, 71, did not immediately return a call for comment left on his answering machine in San Diego, where he has been living for the past two years. He remains a priest but no longer has a parish.

Shanley also claims in a letter in his file reponding to letter from the Rev. Brian M. Flatley, Assistant to the Secretary for Ministerial Personnel in Boston, that he was himself sexually abused as a teen-ager and later as a seminarian, by a priest.

Despite the serious nature of many of the allegations, Shanley's file is full of breezy correspondences. In a 1995 letter from Flatley to the Rev. Monsignor Edward D. O'Donnell in the Archdiocese of New York, Flatley said "enclosed is the latest chapter in the Paul Shanley saga."

"Some crazy stuff in there. He is an interesting character," Flatley wrote. In another letter to O'Donnell, he wrote, "he certainly manages to keep things interesting!"

The archdiocese has been rocked over the past few months by a sex scandal that largely began with former priest John Geoghan, who has been accused of molesting more than 130 youngsters and is serving a prison sentence for groping a boy in a swimming pool. Documents released months ago show that the archdiocese knew about the child-molestation allegations against him but did little more than transfer him from parish to parish.

The case has set off child-sex allegations around the country and has led to the suspension or resignation of dozens of priests.

Shanley was ordained in 1960 and became well known as a "street priest" over the next two decades. He established a ministry for runaways, drug abusers, drifters and teen-agers struggling with sexual identity.

Ford, who says he was repeatedly raped by Shanley in the 1980s, also alleges that Cardinal Bernard Law allowed the priest to remain as pastor at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Newton until 1989, despite knowledge of his behavior.

MacLeish showed reporters some of the 818 church records turned over to Ford under court order. The records include 26 complaints of sex abuse against Shanley, MacLeish said. Shanley has not been criminally charged in any.

One document is a copy of a Feb. 12, 1979, issue of a publication called GaysWeek that included an article titled "Men & Boys."

The article described a meeting of 150 people in Boston on the topic of man-boy love. It said many speakers representing various religions endorsed such relationships — including Shanley, who was there as a representative of then-Cardinal Humberto Medeiros' program for outreach to sexual minorities.

The article described an anecdote Shanley shared at the conference about a boy "who was rejected by family and society but helped by a boy-lover."

The relationship ended when it was discovered by the boy's parents, and the man was sent to prison.

"And there began the psychic demise of that child," Shanley reportedly said. "He had loved that man. It was only a brief and passing thing as far as the sex was concerned but the love was deep and the gratitude to the man was deep.

"We have our convictions upside down if we are truly concerned with boys," he said, apparently referring to the punishment meted out to the man. "The cure does far more damage."

The North American Man Boy Love Association apparently was formed at the end of the conference by 32 men and two teen-agers. There was no indication in the article that Shanley was among them.

"This we believe was the start of the so-called NAMBLA organization," MacLeish said. "Paul Shanley was there at its inception. And within the Archdiocese of Boston is a record confirming his attendance and quoting him."

The article was sent to the archdiocese by a lawyer in New York who said he thought church officials should know.

But other documents show church officials already knew about sexual deviance claims against Shanley.

In February 1979, the same month as the NAMBLA meeting, Medeiros sent a letter to the Vatican in response to questions from the Vatican in November 1978 about Shanley.

"I believe that Father Shanley is a troubled priest and I have tried to be understanding and patient with him while continuously affirming both privately to him and publicly to my people the church's teaching on sexual ethics," Medeiros wrote.

In the letter, Medeiros told Cardinal Franjo Seper that he had met with Shanley and told the priest he was "confusing people" with his teachings about homosexuality. Shanley had produced tapes for distribution called "Changing Norms of Sexuality."

That same year, Medeiros reassigned Shanley to St. John the Evangelist Parish.

In 1977, a woman from Rochester, N.Y., sent a letter to Medeiros with a summary of a meeting about homosexuality that Shanley attended. The summary quoted Shanley as saying he could "think of no sexual act that causes psychic damage — 'not even incest or bestiality."'

The earliest document related to sex abuse dates to 1967: A priest at LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro wrote a letter of concern to the archdiocese, relating allegations that Shanley had taken boys to a cabin and molested them.

Shanley moved to California and joined the San Bernardino Diocese in 1990 after a medical leave from Boston. He served at St. Anne Catholic Church there for three years without restriction on his contact with children.

"I can assure you that Father Shanley has no problem that would be concern to your diocese," the Rev. Robert J. Banks wrote in his 1990 letter to San Bernardino officials.

In 1995, Shanley moved to New York to become assistant director of Leo House, which housed transients, clergy, people visiting the sick, students and travelers. He later was poised to become director of the organization, but was not given the job.

In a "confidential" 1995 report Flatley wrote to Law and others after a meeting with Shanley, Flatley stated "Father Shanley realizes it is not acceptable to Cardinal Law or Cardinal O'Connor that he be director of Leo House."

In a discussion of his options, Shanley said he "has a plan to live in an unnamed country with a post office box in the states, which would secure anonymity for him," Flatley wrote.

Last week, Shanley was fired as a volunteer with the San Diego Police Department.