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Spotlight Report

Bill would give voice to molestation victims

Parole board testimony eyed

By Rick Klein, Globe Staff, 3/16/2001

 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
Responding to pleas from victims of a former Catholic priest convicted of sexual molestation, the Legislature's Public Safety Committee rushed out a bill yesterday that would allow those victims and others like them to testify at parole hearings.

Former priest James R. Porter, who has served seven years of an 18- to 20-year sentence for sexually abusing 28 children, is eligible for parole April 30. Several of his victims told lawmakers that they want to tell the state Parole Board about the psychological impact of the abuse.

The committee agreed, and in an unusual step, members went into executive session in the middle of a public hearing and reported the bill out favorably.

"This is about the Parole Board getting balanced testimony," said the bill's sponsor, Senator Cheryl A. Jacques, a Needham Democrat. "They need to hear both sides of the story."

The measure will now move to the Senate and then the House, and advocates hope to pass the bill in time for Porter's parole hearing. Governor Paul Cellucci is expected to sign the bill.

The measure would allow victims of violence and sex crimes to have input at parole hearings, either in person or by closed-circuit television. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but was never taken up in the House.

State law now allows testimony at parole hearings only from family members of first-degree murder victims and victims in cases where the convicted person is serving a life term.

Representative Cory Atkins, the House sponsor of the measure, said the bill is about helping the victims, many of whom could find comfort in appearing before the Parole Board.

"So much of our legal system focuses on the defendants," said Atkins, a Concord Democrat. "It's going to make a difference for a lot of people."

Porter, a longtime priest in the Diocese of Fall River, pleaded guilty to 41 charges of sexual abuse in 1993. He was denied parole at his first hearing last year, but he will be eligible next month and every year until his sentence is complete.

His victims praised the legislators' fast action yesterday.

"I'm glad they understood the urgency of this getting through," said Frank Fitzpatrick, a Porter victim and founder of Survivor Connections, a nonprofit group that provides information to sexual abuse victims.

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 3/16/2001.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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