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Porter's leaving was urged in 1970

Psychologist said he shouldn't be priest

By Linda Matchan, Globe Staff, 1/19/1993

 In-depth
In 1992, the Rev. James R. Porter case in Fall River brought the problem of clergy abuse into the open.  
Coverage of the Porter case
clinical psychologist who evaluated former Massachusetts priest James R. Porter in 1970 concluded that Porter should be removed from the priesthood because he had become adept at seducing young boys while performing his priestly duties, and because he seemed unaware of the psychological harm he may have caused his victims, according to Porter's diocesan church records.

The records, which were obtained by the Globe, also contain evidence that Porter did not want to leave the priesthood, but rather was forced out against his will by church authorities in 1970 after a psychologist strongly urged his return to secular life.

"I believe, quite strongly, that he should apply for laicization and should never again function as a priest," wrote the Rev. Fred Bennett, a priest and psychologist at a treatment center operated by the Servants of the Paraclete Order in New Mexico, in a Nov. 3, 1970, letter to church officials in Porter's home diocese of Fall River.

Noting that Porter had requested a year's leave of absence from the priesthood in order to avoid the temptation to commit sexual acts with boys, the psychologist disputed Porter's request, insisting that priestly life offered too many temptations to Porter. Among these temptations, he wrote, were "easy access to boys . . . the lack of surveillance by parents who instinctively trust priests, his athletic abilities which are attractive to boys, and, especially, a pattern of behavior over many years in which he has learned how to appeal to boys and to seduce them while functioning as a priest.

"He is . . . a basically immature person," Bennett noted in a second report contained in Porter's personnel file. "He does not seem to be aware of the psychological harm that he may have caused the youths. Moreover, when he is entangled in these sexual situations, he apparently fails to see the inevitability of discovery of such a large number of youths involved."

Porter was sent to the New Mexico Paraclete center for treatment in 1967 after several Massachusetts parents charged that he sexually molested their children in three parishes in the Fall River diocese. He was treated at Paraclete centers in Minnesota and Missouri at least through 1970, church records show, occasionally accepting priestly assignments at churches in New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, and Minnesota.

In a 1973 letter to the Vatican and Pope Paul VI published by the Globe, Porter admitted to molesting children during this time in all four states.

Porter has been indicted in Massachusetts on 46 charges of molesting 32 children in the 1960s. He has also been named in civil suits in New Mexico and Minnesota. Last month, Porter, who formally left the priesthood in 1973, was found guilty in Minnesota of molesting his own children's teen-age baby sitter in 1987. He is scheduled to be sentenced there next week.

The documents contained in Porter's personnel file show that until 1970 when the psychologist urged his removal from the priesthood, Paraclete officials remained optimistic about his prognosis despite their knowledge that he occasionally abused children while on assignment and despite some obvious behavior problems.

In one of several monthly progress reports contained in Porter's file, Paraclete officials wrote in February 1969 that Porter needs a "deeper spiritual life," was "highly nervous and overactive; will have to learn self-control and emotional stability; mixes well . . . but offends some by his lack of priestly control in regard to choice of language. There is a basic emotional immaturity which accounts for most of his short-comings."

While noting in passing that Porter had "lapsed into former failings on recent assignment in Houston, Texas," the author of the report nonetheless concluded that Porter still showed promise as a priest. He is a "generous and willing priest," the author wrote. "If he can learn emotional stability and self-control, he could have a fine future ahead of him."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 1/19/1993.
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