Whopper of the Week: The Rev. Robert J. Banks

The archdiocese of Boston takes care of its own.

“I can assure you that Father Shanley has no problem that would be a concern to your diocese.”

The Rev. Robert J. Banks, vicar for administration, archdiocese of Boston, in a 1990 letter to the Rev. Philip A. Behan, diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., where the Rev. Paul Shanley was transferred that year. Banks was top deputy to Cardinal Bernard Law.

“Father Paul Shanley, representative of Boston’s Cardinal Madeiros for outreach to sexual minorities, told the story of a boy who was rejected by family and society, but helped by a boy-lover. When his parents found out about the relationship, however, the man was arrested, convicted and sent to prison. ‘And there began the psychic demise of that kid,’ Shanley commented. ‘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, and when he realized that the indiscretion in the eyes of society and the law had cost this man perhaps 20 years … the boy began to fall apart,’ Shanley concluded. ‘We have our convictions upside down if we are truly concerned with boys … the ‘cure’ does far more damage.’ “

—Gay Week magazine story about a Boston panel on man-boy love, Feb. 12, 1979.

Discussion:It can’t be proved conclusively that when Banks wrote this letter, he knew that Shanley openly advocated sex between men and boys. (In a statement this week, Banks said, “Obviously I was not aware of any allegations against Father Shanley before I sent the letter.”) But, according to Michael Rezendes and Matt Carroll of the Boston Globe, the Boston diocese “had a record of allegations of sexual abuse against Shanley that dated back to the 1960s.” Even if one grants, very generously, that Banks was unaware of these allegations, or didn’t believe them, his formulation “I can assure you” is false. He couldn’t truthfully assure the San Bernardino diocese because, at the very best, he didn’t know enough about Shanley to assure it.

Got a whopper? Send it to To be considered, an entry must be an unambiguously false statement paired with an unambiguous refutation, and both must be derived from some appropriately reliable public source. Preference will be given to newspapers and other documents that Chatterbox can link to online.

Whopper Archive:
April 5, 2002: George W. Bush  
Mar. 29, 2002: Major League Baseball
Mar. 21, 2002: Billy Graham
Mar. 14, 2002: INS commissioner James W. Ziglar
Mar. 8, 2002: Robert Zoellick and the U.S. steel industry
Feb. 28, 2002: Al Sharpton
Feb. 22, 2002: Olympic skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne
Feb. 14, 2002: Kenneth Lay
Feb. 8, 2002: Enron spokeswoman Peggy Mahoney
Jan. 31, 2002: Monsanto
Jan. 24, 2002: Linda Chavez
Jan. 17, 2002: George W. Bush
Jan. 10, 2002: Simon & Schuster
Jan. 4, 2002: The Associated Press

(Click  here  to access the Whopper Archive for 2001.)