Of witches and other mythical creatures

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In February, former priest Paul Shanley, 74, was convicted on three counts of raping a child and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child. He was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison which, because of his age, is effectively a life sentence.

There were originally four accusers, who claimed to have recovered memories of abuse which happened nearly four decades ago. Three were dropped by the prosecution due to large inconsistencies in their stories. According to news reports, the forth, Paul Busa, claimed to have been removed from his class at school by Shanley and raped, on numerous occasions from age six to age twelve. But each time, he claimed he had forgotten the experience by the next day, and thus continued to go with Shanley each time.

What sets the Shanley case apart from many of the other sex abuse cases involving priests is that it seems to rely solely on uncorroborated recovered memories. The prosecution did not present any eyewitnesses, any physical evidence, any evidence of contemporaneous health or emotional problems, nor any recollections of unusual activity or behavior at the time. The whole theory of recovered memory and traumatic amnesia is dubious at best. Richard McNally, a Harvard University psychologist and the author of Remembering Trauma, says that people forget and recover nontraumatic memories all the time, but when an experience is truly traumatic, they "seldom if ever" forget it, though they may manage not to think about it. "No one has traumatic amnesia. Moreover, the more repeated an event is, the less likely you are to forget that class of event."

source: Article 'Of Witches and Other Mythical Creatures'; NAMBLA Bulletin Vol. 25 No. 1; March 2005