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Nine allege priest abused them, threaten to sue church

By Alison Bass, Globe Staff, 5/8/1992

 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
ine men and women who say they were sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest when they were children living in the Fall River-New Bedford area more than 20 years ago have notified the Catholic Church that they intend to sue if it does not compensate them for the damages they suffered and help bring him to justice.

Frank Fitzpatrick, an insurance adjuster and licensed private detective from Cranston, R.I., who alleges he was raped by Rev. James R. Porter, said he has tape recordings of recent telephone conversations in which Porter admitted molesting children when he was a priest in Massachusetts during the 1960s.

In a tape played on WBZ-TV (Ch. 4) news last night, a voice the station identified as Porter's told of molesting between 50 and 100 children.

Porter, who has since left the priesthood and now lives in Oakdale, Minn., was reached at home last night but refused to comment. Fitzpatrick said Porter has never been criminally or civilly prosecuted.

Fitzpatrick, now 42, said he recalls one incident when he was 10 or 11, when Porter, then a priest at St. Mary's School in North Attleborough, took him to a ballgame and then to Porter's parents' house in Revere.

"He gave me some mincemeat pie and it had something in it that knocked me out and then he raped me," Fitzpatrick said yesterday in a telephone interview. "I repressed it entirely until a little over two years ago, when the memories started coming back. But I remember that at first I really admired Father Porter and afterwards I suddenly started disliking him and didn't want to be around him anymore. But I didn't know why at the time."

Fitzpatrick and the others, whom he tracked down through newspaper ads and counseling groups for sex abuse victims, said yesterday that the Fall River diocese, to which Porter was attached in the 1960s, knew that Porter had sexually molested several children while at St. Mary's School, from 1960-1963.

Yet, they said, church officials did not remove Porter from the priesthood and instead transferred Porter first to Fall River for two years and then to St. James Church in New Bedford, where he allegedly molested other children before leaving Massachusetts in 1967.

"There's no question the church covered it up," Fitzpatrick said. "As far as Father Porter, he should be in jail for what he did. I don't believe a word of what he says about being cured."

In a letter to church officials, Roderick MacLeish Jr., the attorney representing the nine who are making the allegations, demanded that the church compensate his clients for their physical and emotional suffering. MacLeish said he wanted to give the church the option of resolving the case out of court.

Fall River diocese officials did not return repeated phone calls yesterday. Rev. Armando Annunciato, a priest at St. Mary's Church in Mansfield, who was in North Attleborough in the early 1960s, said he had heard about the sexual abuse allegations but only "after the fact." He declined to say precisely when he learned of the alleged abuse.

"I was only an associate at the time," Annunciato said in a brief telephone interview yesterday. "I feel very sorry for the people who have suffered. But I don't wish to comment any further."

Officials from the US Catholic Conference say the Catholic Church takes the problem of sexual abuse much more seriously now than it did even five or 10 years ago, when child abuse was viewed by religious leaders and society in general as a "moral failing." Shaken by repeated disclosures of sexual misconduct among its clergy in recent years, the Catholic Church has instituted a set of recommendations for how each diocese should handle such allegations.

"In past decades, child abuse may have been viewed as simply a moral failing for which one should be repentant rather than a psychological addiction for which treatment is mandatory," said Beth Griffin, a spokeswoman for the US Catholic Conference in New York. "Today things are different. The mere hint of such a case is viewed by a bishop with alarm."

MacLeish said he and Fitzpatrick have been trying to get the Bristol district attorney's office to prosecute Porter.

In a written response to Fitzpatrick in June 1991, Gilbert J. Nadeau, first assistant district attorney for Bristol County, said his office would not be able to pursue the matter. Nadeau said "substantial questions exist as to the running of the statute of limitations and to the proper venue for the alleged offense against" Fitzpatrick.

"I trust you can appreciate the difficulty in effectively prosecuting a 30-year-old offense," Nadeau wrote in his letter to Fitzpatrick, responding to a complaint sent by Fitzpatrick in March 1991. "The resources of this office are limited. The caseload of recent offenses . . . is staggering."

Nadeau said yesterday that he received a letter this week from MacLeish asking him to prosecute Porter. Nadeau said he would discuss the matter with MacLeish and that his office had not yet decided whether to reconsider their initial dismissal of Fitzpatrick's complaint.

Several of the complainants in this case said they have suffered enormous emotional and physical damage as the result of the alleged abuse by Porter, whom they and their families respected and trusted.

One of the men, who now lives in New Bedford and asked the Globe to identify him only by his first name, said he has suffered from major depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of being molested by Porter on three separate occasions when he was 12.

"I held it in and did not tell a soul until I was 17," said Joe, now 37, in a telephone interview from his mother's home in New Bedford. "I was very paranoid in school and was depressed every single morning for years. It's been a long journey with psychiatrists to the point where I am now."

Joe said he has been repeatedly hospitalized for depression and panic disorder and is now in a day treatment program for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Joe said Porter once molested him in his own home, after asking his parents if he could go into Joe's bedroom to talk to him.

"Porter always had a line or an excuse for what he was up to," Joe said bitterly. "My concern is that he be stopped before he molests any more children."

Two women, Judy Mullett and Patty Wilson, told a WBZ-TV reporter that they had also been raped by Porter when they were children and had suffered enormously.

Several said they remain angry with the way church officials dealt with the case. Joe and Fitzpatrick said that although several parents had complained to church officials in Fall River in 1963 about what they felt was Porter's sexual behavior with their children, church officials merely transferred Porter to St. James Church in New Bedford.

"I want the church exposed for what they did," Joe said. "He got top- flight care and they discarded us like dishrags. To this day it is still being ignored."

Fitzpatrick said that in 1989, when he was trying to track Porter down and asked for help, Fall River church officials refused to cooperate.

"I asked what Porter's middle initial was and his date of birth and Social Security number and they said, 'Sorry, we don't have any of it,' " Fitzpatrick said. "The monsignor who called me back said maybe it was best to leave it in the hands of the Lord."

Fitzpatrick discovered that in 1967, Porter had been sent to the Jemez Springs Foundation House in New Mexico for psychological treatment. Porter left the priesthood in the early 1970s and is now the father of four children, age 15 to 9 months.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 5/8/1992.
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