Original Sexual Abuse Whistle Blower on Catholic Church Goes Public


Joe Crowley didn’t know how he’d feel when everybody started talking about anniversaries and commemorations and retrospectives.

It’s been 10 years since the story of the international cover-up of sexual abuse by priests exploded here in Boston. For most people, it’s just that: a story.

But for Joe Crowley, a survivor, it’s his story, the only one he can tell. He was a 15-year-old student at Boston College High School, on a college path, when a predator wearing a Roman collar named Paul Shanley changed all that. Shanley abused Crowley, then sent him to other men.

Crowley’s life changed. College was pushed aside. Ambition was pushed aside. But he couldn’t push aside his shame, a gnawing sense that he, a 15-year-old boy, had somehow been responsible for a 40-year-old man’s depravity. “I was angry,’’ he said.

“At my perpetrator. At the church, which I knew was aware of Shanley’s crimes and protected him. At myself, for allowing myself to be vulnerable.’’

He was already in the process of gradually reclaiming his life when the scandal went viral. Seeing so many others come forward lessened his feelings of isolation. It forced him to confront more directly something that still made him cry at odd times, like when he was just walking down the sidewalk, and that robbed him of sleep, of ordinary contentment.

He got help and got better. He credits therapy. He credits his friends. He credits his lawyer, Carmen Durso. And he should credit himself.

“The more I talked about the abuse, the less power it had to own me,’’ he said.

–“Survivor faces abuse to reclaim his life,” Kevin Cullen in Today’s Boston Globe

My relationship with Joseph has always been a private one in which he was an enormous help to me 15 years ago when I needed someone to talk to pretty much every night when I paced my bachelor pad unable to sleep.

When the Globe broke the story about priest abuse I knew Joseph had a role but it took time for him to share just how big a role. He was the first one to come forward and talk to the spotlight investigative reporting team (See “First to Come Forward“).

From Joseph’s revelations to the Globe the story spread throughout Boston, across the country and then across the world. One could argue that no one person has done more to stop the sexual abuse of children than my friend Joseph.

But he doesn’t look at it that way. To him it was always about doing the right thing. And about facing his own personal demons.

And today we met for coffee for probably the hundredth time to talk about going public with his full identity for the first time in Kevin Cullen’s column. Cullen was one of the original spotlight team members.

As always we joked about the Golden Globes and talked more about me than him, just like it was at the beginning when he was my lifeline, helping me climb out of my own personal hell while he did the same for himself. And in the process changed the way sexual abuse is viewed by the world.

Image: www.travel360.com

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. “Seeing so many others come forward lessened his feelings of isolation….” Brilliant…and very healing! More!

  2. DavidByron says:

    What did you think about Sinéad O’Connor’s attempt to draw attention in 1992?

    • Tom Matlack says:

      David I only have a faint memory of that. I was talking to Joe today and he was saying that it really takes all kinds in terms of how victims choose to speak out. No one way is better or worse. His way turned out to be extremely powerful, in part because he just told the truth with plenty of evidence to journalists who had the ability to publicize what was going on where no one had before.

    • David – that you for reminding so many of that act. I was watching the recording of Sinéad O’Connor again – YouTube from SNL – it’s shocking how it has taken 20 years for that message to be seen with different eyes. http://youtu.be/bCOIQOGXOg0

      To many it will just be some mad artists making a scene of TV – and I wonder if Joe Pesci has wondered about it since and maybe changed his mind?

      I’ve spoken to many of the survivors from Ireland who think Sinéad is a saint, because of what she did.

      “Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story” – as it says in Desiderata. Sinéad listened and then spoke out where so many others had deaf ears.


  1. […] On the issue of rape culture I obviously got myself into plenty of hot water by resisting the belief that all men should be treated as rapists until proven otherwise and only men can prevent rape. We’ve obviously been focussed on the plight of male victims of sexual abuse recently from my CNN column on the change in the Justice Department’s definition of rape to include men to “I’ve Got the T-Shirt and the Trauma Response to Go With It” to my buddy who was the first to come forward in the Boston priest scandal going public.  […]

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