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Sex offender Porter is denied parole

By Paul Langner, Globe Staff, 4/3/1999

 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
ARDNER -- James R. Porter, the former priest convicted of sexually abusing 28 children, was denied parole yesterday by a panel that said he "has not come to terms with his offenses, continues to minimize the crimes, and does not have true remorse."

None of the people whom Porter abused, nor any of their relatives, were inside or outside the closed hearing, held at the North Central Correctional Institution before two parole board members.

Their attorney, Roderick MacLeish Jr., said they were unhappy they could not speak at the hearing. They were permitted to submit written statements.

Porter, 64, was convicted in 1993 and sentenced to 18 to 20 years in state prison. He is now being held at the Franklin County House of Correction in Greenfield.

The two-member panel of the state parole board took less than an hour before voting unanimously to deny Porter parole. He will get another chance next year.

Most parole board hearings are held behind closed doors in various prisons, except in murder cases, in which the hearings are held at the parole board's offices in Boston and open to the public.

Porter was to have been eligible for parole next December, but according to parole board spokeswoman Alberta Cook, he had shaved 196 days off his sentence because of good behavior.

That did not impress one of the men who was abused by Porter as a child, nor MacLeish, who represented the bulk of Porter's victims in a civil suit against the Catholic Church. The suit was settled in December 1992 for at least $5 million.

George Hardie, who as a boy was abused by Porter, scoffed at the notion of good behavior, noting that the former priest was now among people he could not dominate.

Hardie, who prefers to refer to himself and others who were abused by Porter as survivors, "because we are veterans, walking wounded," said he was grateful to the parole board.

Noting that experience shows that child abusers often commit the same crime when they get out of prison, Hardie said, "This means to me that the Commonwealth is protecting its citizens. They have made a righteous judgment. I hope they continue to make that judgment until he has served his term."

MacLeish, who represented 101 of the estimated 130 men and women who were abused by Porter, said he and the victims are "extremely frustrated" by the closed nature of the hearings. He said he plans to push for a bill to make such hearings open to those who were abused and to the public.

MacLeish said that he was heartened by the steps taken by Cardinal Bernard Law and the bishop of Fall River, Sean O'Malley, "to make sure that . . . parents . . . can live in comfort that such a thing will not happen again. The only positive thing to come out of this is that the Church's sensitivity has grown."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 4/3/1999.
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