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Six more allege priest abused them in '60s

By Dolores Kong, Globe Staff, 5/9/1992

 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
ix more people alleged yesterday that they were sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest in the Fall River Diocese while they were children in the 1960s, bringing the total of accusers to 15.

Nine of the accusers notified officials of the Catholic Church earlier this week that they intended to sue if the church did not pay them damages and aid them in seeking legal action against James R. Porter, who has left the priesthood.

The Bristol district attorney said yesterday he would investigate the allegations against Porter, who served in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford from 1960 through 1967 before leaving the state and quitting the priesthood. But the district attorney's office also raised questions about the statute of limitations.

Stephen Johnson, 43, one of the six who yesterday contacted an attorney involved in the case, said Porter raped him repeatedly when he was an altar boy at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough. One assault occurred on a trip with several other altar boys to a Rhode Island beach house owned by Johnson's parents, he said.

"You're talking to a very angry person, a very sad person, someone whose life has been devastated by this kind of behavior," said Johnson, director of development at a health center in Wakefield, R.I. "I am determined to have the Vatican address this, and I won't stop until they do."

Another of the six, Dennis Gaboury, 40, said he too was an altar boy at the North Attleborough church when Porter sexually abused him for nearly two hours in his locked office.

"I remember being on the floor and he was on top of me," said Gaboury, who recalled only one such incident, when he was 10. "He was breathing on me and rubbing up against me."

Gaboury, administrator for a law firm in Baltimore, said in a telephone interview yesterday, "I'm no longer ashamed. I'm validated now that other people are coming forward."

Porter has declined to speak to the Globe. But in a tape-recorded conversation played on WBZ-TV (Ch. 4) Thursday, a man identified by the station as Porter said he had molested 50 to 100 children.

In a one-paragraph news release yesterday, church officials said: "The Diocese of Fall River regrets the unfortunate manner in which allegations against a former priest have been made public. James Porter has not functioned in the Diocese for over 21 years. It is our policy to respect the privacy of the individuals involved. The purpose of the diocese is pastoral. The community of faithful can trust that this serious matter will be handled with compassion and reverence for all. Since this has become a legal matter, it is not appropriate to comment further."

Calls to church officials were not returned.

At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh said his office will investigate any allegations against Porter by those who come forward.

But Gilbert Nadeau, first assistant district attorney, said in a phone interview, "There are still substantial problems with making out a viable case, given the amount of time that's elapsed since these have been alleged to have occurred."

According to state law in the 1960s, which applies in this case, the statute of limitations would run out six years from the time the crime was committed, unless the perpetrator moved out of state before the six years were up, according to Nadeau. In the latter case, victims may still be able to pursue their cases.

Porter moved in 1967, according to the attorney representing some of the alleged victims, and now lives in Minnesota and is a househusband and father of four children.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., the attorney, has demanded the church compensate his clients for more than $100,000 he estimates they have spent in aggregate on therapy, as well as for emotional damage. He sent a letter this week to the diocese's attorney, asking for a response by early June.

"I just hope the church does the right thing," MacLeish said. "The church needs to acknowledge the extent of their suffering."

According to specialists on sexual abuse of children, victims often repress the memories for years because the trauma is too great, but they may suffer emotionally and psychologically into adulthood. When the abuser is an authority figure such as a priest, a parent or a teacher, the hurt can be even greater, specialists say.

"All of us lost the most important thing that any child has -- their innocence," Gaboury said. "We just want to find that very vulnerable kid again and take back our lives. We want to pick up now and move on."

For Gaboury, the memories did not come back until seven or eight years ago, he said, and he did not tell his family until two years after that.

Johnson said he is most angry at the Catholic Church, saying it covers up for pedophilic priests. He said he tried to kill himself three times and has been in therapy since 1970.

"My intention is to create in fact an international advocacy coalition to force the Vatican to address pedophilia," Johnson said. "It has got to be done. If it saves one child, it has got to be done. I don't care what exposure I get. The pain has been too much not to address this head on."

Johnson said that once when Porter raped him at the church, another priest walked in on them, but "he just shut the door and walked out."

The priest who walked in, Johnson alleged, was Rev. Armando Annunciato of St. Mary's Church in Mansfield, who was in North Attleborough in the early 1960s. Father Annunciato, who said in a brief interview Thursday that he heard about sexual abuse allegations against Porter only "after the fact," did not return a reporter's phone call yesterday.

Johnson said sexual abuse still occurs in the Catholic Church.

For instance, he charges that as recently as 1 1/2 years ago, a priest in Providence who was familiar with his history of being sexually abused tried to rape him. Johnson said he did not want to name the priest.

"I am furious with the church, and how they dare deny this exists," he said.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 5/9/1992.
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