Priest Sex Abuser Appeals Conviction: Denies Existence of Repressed Memory

by John McKiggan

Paul Shanley the notorious defrocked priest and convicted sex abuser that was the center of the Boston priest sexual abuse scandal has appealed his conviction on charges of repeatedly raping and fondling a boy at a Newton parish in the 1980s.

Shanley claims that his lawyer at his trial did not do a good enough job challenging the admissibility of the victim’s “repressed memories” of the childhood sexual abuse.

The District Attorney who prosecuted Shanley, Gerry Leone was quoted as saying:

“The concept of recovered memory by victims of abuse has been accepted by both the scientific and legal communities, as well as the jury who convicted Mr. Shanley after hearing the full evidence in this case,” Leone said. “We remain confident in the jury’s verdict.”

Repressed Memory: What is it?

It is common for us to consciously repress unpleasant memories. In other words, we know what happened, but we chose not to think about it.

Repressed memory is the memory of a traumatic event that has been unconsciously repressed. In other words, the victim of a traumatic event has no conscious memory of a traumatic event because his or her subconscious has repressed the memory. Repressed memories can be recalled after being triggered, usually by another traumatic event.

Does Repressed Memory Exist?

There is mixed scientific opinion about whether repressed memory really exists. Some professionals deny the existence of repressed memories. Some are sceptical despite peer-reviewed studies and clinical studies that continue to document the phenomenon.

So What’s the Answer?

The reality is that the validity of repressed memories may have a great to do with the way in which the memories were recovered. You can read an interesting examination of the issue from the University of Washington: The Reality of Repressed Memories.


I have been representing survivors of childhood sexual abuse for more than 15 years. I have no doubt that traumatic memories of something as horrifying as childhood sexual abuse can be repressed by the unconscious mind as a protection mechanism.

That is not to say that I think all repressed memories are true. But in my experience a careful examination of all the facts surrounding each particular case usually provides evidence to corroborate the accuracy of most victims’ repressed memories.

What do you think? Have you ever experienced the recovery of a repressed memory? Do you think repressed memories even exist?

I have represented hundreds of victims of childhood sexual abuse in claims for compensation. As a public service I have prepared a resource guide for survivors of sexual abuse in Atlantic Canada. You can receive a free copy of this report by contacting me through this blog, or my website at or my blog or you can call me toll free 1-877-423-2050.

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