Clergy sexual abuse and recovered memories
Amicus Curiae brief on recovered
memories in the case: MA vs. Stanley
Paul R. Shanley (circa 1936 - ) is one of the individuals
allegedly involved in the Boston, MA sex abuse scandal among Roman Catholic
clergy. That local scandal later triggered investigations and
accusations elsewhere in the U.S. and eventually
led to financial settlements that totaled billions of dollars by the Catholic
Stanley was prosecuted in
2005, and found guilty of four counts -- all on the same child. Two were charges of rape and two of
indecent assault and batter. He was given a sentence of from
12 to 15 years. 1
Paul Busa, the alleged victim, testified that Rev. Shanley had repeatedly
taken him out of Sunday school at St. Jean's Church in Newton, MA when he was
between 6 and 11 years-of-age, and molested him. He said that he did not
remember the abuse until the year 2002 when he learned of an article in the
Boston Globe involving Shanley and other alleged perpetrators.
Before Shanley's trial, there had been claims that he had been
sexually involved with adolescents or young adults in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, nobody had previously accused him of being an abusive pedophile -- i.e.
being sexually involved with young children. 2 Pedophilia is quite rare among Catholic priests.
During the trial, Shanley's lawyer -- Frank Mondano -- argued
that the victim's recollections were false memories that had been implanted by
friends, therapists, and personal injury lawyers. Teachers testified that they
could not recall Shanley taking children out of class. One stated that Busa
would not have been in the class at the age that he claimed the abuse happened.
Shanley has always maintained his innocence, and has appealed
his case to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. He expects to hear
by the spring of 2010 whether the court will accept the appeal.
A group of almost 100 "distinguished psychologists and
psychiatrists" 2 filed an Amicus Curiae (friend of the court)
brief. Such briefs are submitted by an individual or group with
specialized knowledge who wish to
supply background in formation to a court even though they have no direct
involvement with either the plaintiff or defendant. In this case, the group
wanted to express their beliefs about recovered memories.
The International Committee and their Amicus Curiae:
The International Committee of social, psychiatric,
psychological, cognitive science, neuroscience and neurological scientists
is a group of prominent specialists in "cognition, memory, development, trauma
and posttraumatic stress disorder." 3
They submitted a brief on a phenomenon known by many largely
interchangeable terms: 'repressed memory.' 'recovered memory.' 'traumatic
amnesia,' 'dissociative amnesia,' 'psychogenic amnesia,' and related concepts."
Their brief states, in part:
"... to document the position of the relevant scientific
community regarding the misleading, controversial, and unreliable notions of
'repressed-recovered memories,' 'dissociative amnesia,' and related concepts.
Misleading notions such as 'repressed-recovered
memories,' 'dissociative amnesia' and similar concepts threaten the integrity of
the legal system and expose legal, religious, educational, mental health,
scientific, and other societal systems to grave errors of process and a loss of
public trust. ..." 4
" 'Repressed-recovered memories',
'dissociative amnesia' and related concepts are best described as pernicious
psychiatric folklore devoid of convincing scientific evidence. Such theories are
quite incapable of reliably assisting the legal process. In our collective
opinion, these unsupported, controversial notions have caused incalculable harm
to the fields of psychology and psychiatry, damaged tens of thousands of
families, severely harmed the credibility of mental health professionals, and
misled the legislative, civil, criminal, and family legal systems into many
miscarriages of justice. ..." 5
"Despite the enormous cultural-legal-mediapolitical
momentum generated by this controversial theory, by the year 2001, the 1990?s
tsunami of recovered memory therapists and patients had largely collapsed under
the weight of dozens of scientific and media expos?, many successful and
nationally reported psychotherapy malpractice lawsuits. ...." 6
"The relevant scientific community rose to the
challenge posed by these dangerous and unreliable
notions by publishing dozens of studies documenting
the limitations, logical errors, methodological flaws,
and lack of competent, reliable scientific information
to support 'repressed-recovered memory' research,
theories, and therapies. Research into memory
contamination produced detailed and scientifically
reliable explanations for why some adults make false 'recovered memory' allegations of childhood abuse.
"Under the weight of this multi-pronged attack
including civil suits, scientific research, licensing revocations, criminal
prosecutions, Frye/Daubert exclusions, media exposes, and other processes,
over the years from 1994-2001, the repressed memory 'industry' collapsed and
the number of patients claiming to recover 'repressed memories' of abuse
declined precipitously to a fraction of previous claims. Similarly, the rate
of scientific publications regarding 'repressed memory' tumbled equally
dramatically, from a peak in 1997 to only a fraction of that rate by 2001 and
thereafter. Furthermore, journal articles appearing after 2000 on the subject
of 'repressed memory of trauma' were often frankly skeptical of the concept,
and few of the articles continued to present cases of actual individuals with
putative 'repressed' or 'recovered' memories of trauma much less 'multiple
personalities'. ..." 8
"Throughout these ongoing 'memory
wars', it has always been the consensus opinion of the 'relevant scientific
community' that there is no credible, methodologically sound scientific evidence
whatsoever for the theory that survivors of trauma truly 'repress' and then
later 'recover memories' of actual events that were experienced as traumatic at
Although a vocal subset of clinicians (psychotherapists), believe in the
memory' hypothesis, research conducted by the most credible scientists over many
years involving thousands of trauma-abuse victims demonstrates the persistence
of trauma memories. ..." 9
"In sum, 'repressed-recovered
memories', 'dissociative amnesia' and related concepts are best described as
pernicious psychiatric folklore devoid of convincing scientific evidence. Such
theories are quite incapable of reliably assisting the legal process. In our
collective opinion, these unsupported, controversial notions have caused
incalculable harm to the fields of psychology and psychiatry, damaged tens of thousands of families,
severely harmed the credibility of mental health professionals, and misled the
legislative, civil, criminal, and family legal systems into many miscarriages of
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Jonathan Saltzman, " 'Repressed memory' at issue in defrocked priest's
appeal," The Boston Globe, 2009-SEP-10, at:
- False Memory Syndrome Foundation Newsletter, 2009-Fall. Vol. 18 # 4," at:
- "Statement of interest of Amicus Curiae," National Center for Reason and
http://www.ncrj.org/ This is a PDF file.
- Ibid, Page 3.
- Ibid, Page 4.
- Ibid, Page 6.
- Ibid, Page 8.
- Ibid, Pages 8 & 9.
- Ibid, Page 10.
- Ibid, Page 11.
Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2009-OCT-12
Latest update: 2009-OCT-12
Author: B.A. Robinson