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30 more allege sex abuse in 1960s by priest

By Alison Bass, Globe Staff, 5/12/1992

 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
n additional 30 people came forward yesterday to allege 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 45.

The Bristol County district attorney's office, which is investigating the allegations against the former priest, James R. Porter, will be interviewing 30 of the alleged victims this week, said Roderick MacLeish, a Boston lawyer representing many of the accusers.

MacLeish said yesterday that "judging from the church's initial response, or lack of it," the accusers will probably sue the Catholic Church and Porter, who has left the priesthood and now lives in Minnesota. The church released a single-paragraph statement on the case Friday. Nine of the accusers notified officials of the Catholic Church last week that they intend to sue if the church does not pay them damages and help bring Porter to justice. The alleged victims include both men and women.

John Robitaille, 43, one of those who contacted MacLeish yesterday, alleged that Porter had raped him repeatedly while he was an altar boy at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough. Robitaille said yesterday he had repressed those memories for 30 years; it wasn't until he heard the initial news account about Porter Thursday evening on the radio that "the horror of what happened came back to me."

"I almost drove off the road," said Robitaille, who lives in West Warwick, R.I., and owns a corporate communications company. "I guess it was the validation -- the realization that I wasn't the only who this happened to" that brought back the memories.

Victims of childhood sexual abuse often repress the memories for years because the experience is so traumatic, say many specialists on such abuse. Many victims suffer tremendous emotional angst and even physical symptoms through adulthood, often without realizing why.

"In my case, I became a workaholic and have gone through my life always trying to please everybody and not being able to say no to anybody," said Robitaille, who is divorced and has three daughters. "I wonder what my life would have been like if this hadn't happened to me."

Robitaille alleged that another priest walked in once when Porter was raping him in the basement of St. Mary's rectory. He identified the priest as Rev. Armando Annunciato of St. Mary's Church in Mansfield, who was in North Attleborough in the early '60s.

"He saw me, he looked me in the eye, and he turned around and walked back upstairs," Robitaille recalled. "He turned his back on me and when he did so, it was really symbolic of the whole church's attitude toward victims of this crime."

Father Annunciato could not be reached for comment yesterday. Last Thursday, he said he heard about the sexual abuse allegations against Porter "after the fact."

Steven Johnson, 43, who came forward Friday, also alleged that Father Annunciato walked into a room in the church where he was being assaulted but walked out without taking any action.

Johnson said yesterday that even though these abuses occurred almost 30 years ago, "the town of North Attleborough is in an outrage; they want something done about it and they've been supportive of the people coming forward."

Johnson said the additional people who have come forward were molested by Porter while he was at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough and then after he was transferred to St. James' Church in New Bedford.

Porter, who is now married and has four children, has declined to speak to the Globe. However, 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.

Church officials Friday released a one-paragraph statement saying that Porter has not been in the Fall River Diocese for more than 21 years. The release said, "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 yesterday.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 5/12/1992.
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