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Survivor Narratives

Robert Boley

“Shanice” is good at math. She had to be. If she made a mistake, her teacher, Father Robert Boley, would tell her she couldn’t go out to recess—she had to stay in the classroom with him instead. And that’s when Boley would sit her on his lap and rape her. He did it dozens of times over the course of the school year.

The abuse happened in the late 1980s when Shanice was a fifth grader at Saint Cyril in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. Boley was a member of the Carmelite religious order; he was also Shanice’s math and homeroom teacher. Shanice remembers thinking Boley “seemed really nice” when she first met him. He had just turned up in Chicago the prior year after spending more than a decade ministering in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Before that, he had served an itinerant ministry—on the move every few years from Ontario to Massachusetts to Wisconsin and even, at one point in the early 1970s, finding himself in Joliet.

At first, Boley simply called on Shanice to come up and see him during the middle of class. He sat at a large desk at the front of the room; from their seats, the other students couldn’t see what was happening behind it. Boley told Shanice he wanted to help with her math problems. As she stood there next to him, behind his desk, he would rub her bottom over the skirt she wore to school every day—the uniform required for all young girls who attended Saint Cyril.

Boley touched Shanice like this more than once, at different times, always in the same way. Then, one day, Boley told Shanice she needed to stay back with him while her classmates went to recess. She had gotten a math problem wrong, he explained, and he wanted to give her some extra instruction.

Once they were alone in the classroom, Boley made Shanice sit on his lap. She remembers Boley rubbing her thighs. Looking back on it today, she recognizes he was grinding his body against her panties. But at the time, she didn’t understand what was happening; she was too young to have thought much about sex, let alone understand it.

Shanice recalls clearly the socks she was wearing that day. They had ruffles. And she remembers looking down at those socks to see Boley had slid down her panties; they were now draped around her ankles, around those ruffles. Boley was raping her—first with his finger, and then with his penis. “I don’t think that I even realized what was being taken from me,” Shanice says.

Boley raped Shanice many more times. Around twice a week he would tell her she had made another mistake in class and would have to stay behind. “If I made it to recess, I was happy,” Shanice recalls. And on those days when she found herself instead trapped in Boley’s classroom, the priest told the young child that God wanted him to rape her. “He told me I was bad,” Shanice says. “He told me that Jesus made me bad, that he was there to help me.” Boley promised Shanice she would be a “better girl”—a “better person”—once he was done with her.

At the tender age of 10 years old, Shanice found herself believing Boley’s lies. “I think that what people don’t understand,” she explains, “is when you are a child, you don’t separate a priest from God. He was God. To me, he was God’s worker.” She began acting out—and discovered if she talked too much, if she was disruptive enough, then Boley would kick her out of class. That usually meant the principal would end up whacking her with a large wooden paddle known as the “board of education.” But at least on those days, she didn’t have to spend recess with Boley.

And Shanice is probably not the only child Boley abused at Saint Cyril. She remembers Boley “had somebody in for recess every single day.”

At the time, Shanice kept quiet about what Boley was doing to her. She doesn’t remember the exact words he used, “but whatever it was it made me fearful to tell anybody.” There was one time, though, when another priest burst into the classroom during recess and caught Boley with Shanice. “I was on [Boley’s] lap and [the other priest] didn’t think anything of it,” Shanice recalls. He asked Boley a question, Boley responded, and the other priest walked out and closed the door behind him. He didn’t lift a finger to help Shanice. So the abuse continued.

And Shanice is probably not the only child Boley abused at Saint Cyril. She remembers Boley “had somebody in for recess every single day.” If it wasn’t her turn, it was someone else’s. One time, Boley told another girl “she had to stay for recess and she peed on herself in her desk right then and there.” “As a kid, I didn’t even think anything of it,” Shanice says. “But now I realize why.” The poor child was so terrified of Boley she lost control of her bladder.

Boley continued abusing Shanice until he left the state at the end of the school year—bound for Kentucky, Ontario, and New Jersey, before winding up back in Illinois in 2002 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Darien. That’s where Boley was assigned when a California woman accused him of abusing her when she was a young girl in the 1980s. The Carmelites implemented a “safety plan” and removed Boley from public ministry in 2006. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, where the abuse occurred, ultimately found the woman’s allegations to be credible.

As for Shanice, even as she grew into a woman and became a mother, she still struggled to talk about Boley’s abuse. She felt too embarrassed and ashamed. She struggled to wear dresses—or even to let her daughters sit on men’s laps. “I just knew sitting on somebody’s lap—a man’s lap, you know, was—made you vulnerable,” she explains.

Shanice was finally able to tell her mother about the abuse in 2019. And with her mother’s encouragement, she eventually shared her experience with the Archdiocese of Chicago, which agreed in 2022 to settle her claims for a substantial payment. The money helps, Shanice says, but it isn’t the only thing she wants from the church. “I want [the church] to stop [Boley], him and everybody that looks like him that’s out here doing this. When the first person says that this happened, stop them. Restrict them. Get them help.” And, she adds, “Those who knew should be found and held accountable.”

“This is hurtful stuff,” Shanice explains. “You don’t want to tell—it hurt to tell my mother. It hurt to tell my friend, you know. It hurts to even release it right now. It is just painful to even deal with it. And to even think about everything that’s gone out of my life. It made me—it is all Father Bob’s fault.”

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Terms are defined as provided in the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Glossary of Catholic Terms, unless denoted with *.

Altar server
Individuals, usually children, who assist clerics during liturgical functions such as mass. Prior to 1994, only men and boys were permitted to be altar servers.*
The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses. It is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials.
The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province. It is governed by an archbishop.
Auxiliary Bishop
A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist its residential bishop.
The highest order of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church. The chief priests in their respective dioceses. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. All bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church.
A man who has taken vows in a religious order but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood. Sometimes he is called a lay brother to distinguish him from ordained members of religious orders.
Canon Law

A code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.

Highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope. Cardinals are regarded as the pope's closest advisors. Most cardinals are archbishops.
The chief archivist of a diocese's official records. Also a notary and secretary of the diocese’s central administration.
Clergy is a collective term referring to all those ordained—bishops, priests, and deacons—who administer the rites of the church. A cleric is an individual member of the clergy. Only men are permitted to join the clergy.
Confession or Reconciliation
The Catholic sacrament in which one makes a voluntary self-accusation of sins to a qualified priest in private in order to obtain absolution. The priest provides the confessor, also known as the penitent, with a penance to atone for sins committed. A priest who hears confession is forbidden from disclosing the contents of a confession to others under what is called the seal of confession.*
The personnel and offices through which (1) the pope administers the affairs of the universal church (the Roman Curia), or (2) a bishop administers the affairs of a diocese (the diocesan curia). The principal officials of a diocesan curia are the vicar general, the chancellor, officials of the diocesan tribunal or court, examiners, consultors, auditors, and notaries.
Dallas Charter
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People sets forth policies for each United States archdiocese and diocese to adopt as part of an effort to address allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The Charter was formulated at the 2002 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas. The Charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
One of three groups that comprise the clergy, meaning those ordained for ministry. Only men are permitted to become deacons. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, but only unmarried men committed to lifelong celibacy can be ordained deacons if they are planning to become priests.
Diocesan Priest
Priests under the direction of their local bishop. Most serve in the parishes of the diocese, but they may also be assigned to other diocesan ministries or released for service outside the diocese.
A territorial division of the Church headed by a bishop.
Extern Priest
A priest with faculties to minister in a diocese or archdiocese who was not ordained in that diocese or archdiocese. For example, a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Springfield who has been granted faculties to minister by the Archdiocese of Chicago is an extern priest.*
Church authorization, given by the law itself or by a Church superior, to perform certain official acts.
Members of the Catholic Church. Derived from Catholic teachings that clergy are like shepherds guiding a flock.*
Laicize or Defrock
The process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime, but also can come at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent for a crime, such as committing child sexual abuse, it is sometimes called defrocking.
Any activity conducive to the salvation of souls. It can include ordained ministry such as liturgical leadership and administration of the sacraments, or lay ministry such as instructing children in the faith, serving the poor, visiting the sick, or being an altar server, reader, or music leader at mass.
An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the pope to some diocesan priests.
A member of a religious order of women who has taken solemn or simple vows.
Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. A cleric who has undergone ordination is known as ordained.*
A specific community within a diocese with its own church building and under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation.
Acts performed to atone for committed sins, as directed by a priest in the Catholic sacrament of reconcilliation.*
Residential housing for clergy provided by the Church. A rectory can also contain administrative offices for a parish.*
Religious Cleric
Professed member of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders.
Religious Order or Order
An institution of men or women, at least some of whose members take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and whose male members are sometimes ordained.*
An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood.
A cleric who acts in the name of another cleric.*
Vicar general
A priest, auxiliary bishop, or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese.
Victims Assistance Coordinator

A diocesan employee who has been designated to coordinate assistance to survivors of sex abuse by clerics.*