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St. Michael's, his old parish church back in Providence, had fallen on hard times. The Irish had moved out, their place taken by waves of impoverished immigrants from Latin America and Africa, and Shea responded to a plea to restore the church's organ. He donated $125,000, and Daniel Reilly, a former St. Michael's parishioner who had gone on to become the Bishop of Worcester, Massachusetts, came to the dedication along with the bishop of Providence. "We got a private concert," Shea remembers. "It was just beautiful."
Less than a year later, Reilly would be calling Shea a traitor, and Shea would be suing Reilly on behalf of several victims of a particularly nasty case of priestly abuse, in which the priest in question was allegedly anally raping altar boys on the altar.
"They made the mistake of leaving me alone with him in the conference room, and I looked at him and said, 'Dan Reilly, what the fuck have you been doing?" Shea remembers. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. If Henry Shelley" — a much-beloved long-dead priest and coach at St. Michael's — "were in this room today, he would kick your ass.'"
Shea says that Reilly looked at him as if nobody had ever spoken to him — a bishop! — like that before. Shea didn't care, and pressed on: 'Well, kiss my royal Irish ass, Dan Reilly, because you're a piece of shit.'"
That wicked irreverence has come more to the fore as his traditional faith has lapsed. A few years ago, an Italian political party asked him to address that country's parliament in Rome. His topic was the separation of church and state, but he soon moved on to other, lighter fare. "After my formal presentation, I started talking about Ratzinger and I said, 'Who the hell is he trying to kid? This guy wears enough gold lamé in all of his vestments to suit up three New York drag queens. And furthermore, he's given drag queens a bad name. I mean, look at his Palm Sunday vestments. They're supposed to be red, but his are so gold-encrusted you can barely see the red. He's got Gucci shoes and Prada glasses, and have you seen the boyfriend? He's a hunk — a German tennis player and a jet fighter pilot, Gorgeous Georg. I've never seen a bishop who didn't have an extraordinarily handsome private secretary."
Today, he says he won't set foot in a Catholic church and has left instructions that no priest is to get anywhere near his body after his death. "You have to go that far. You have to get so angry...I had to get so goddamn angry...Really, it's only been in the last year that I have come to peace with the fact that I am never gonna darken the doorstep of another Catholic church again," he says. Churchgoing Catholics are part of the problem, he says. "They're shelling out the money, going, 'Oh fa-ther, fa-ther.'"
Meanwhile, he is one of those rare people whose life is their work. Several of his obsessions — the conservative counterrevolution in the post-Vatican II Catholic Church and the separation of church and state — are bound up in the Catholic Church's sex scandals, and as an attorney, he has the power to fight to effect change. (As an out and proud gay man, he also has issues with some of the church's teachings on homosexuality.)
And perhaps his fondest wish is to see the current Pope put on a witness stand or even arrested. It saddens him that this country — the proud home of the First Amendment — probably won't be the one to do it, nor will he be the lawyer to grill the man he loves to call plain old Joseph Ratzinger.
Shea says one of the first questions he wanted to ask Ratzinger was if he would be willing to clarify the words of one of his underlings, auxiliary Bishop George Rueger, with whom Shea once had the following courtroom exchange:
Daniel Shea: I'm trying to get a sense of this idea that if a cleric becomes involved in sexual conduct with a minor, that somehow this is a sin committed obviously by the cleric, but with the minor, that the minor is sinning along with the priest. I think you've indicated that frankly you believe that that may or may not be true, but it's possible that that could be correct; is that right?
Rueger: "He is sinning with a minor, the minor is his accomplice. What the gravity of the minor's culpability is is hard to say."
"They truly believe these children are accomplices," Shea says in wonder. "That's the sworn testimony of a bishop, and he says it without hesitation."
And he came so close...Even after Ratzinger became Benedict XVI, Shea's case was still grinding along in Judge Lee Rosenthal's federal courtroom on Rusk Street. After his election, Shea and co-counsel Khan Merritt knew that the jig was up, and not long after the conclave, a Vatican diplomat sent word to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking her to invoke Ratzinger's immunity.
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