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Sex abuse by ex-priest is alleged in Minn.

By Victoria Benning, Globe Staff, 5/23/1992

 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
uthorities in Minnesota are investigating allegations that former Massachusetts priest James R. Porter sexually abused a child there. But police there said it is unlikely charges will be filed on behalf of the alleged victim because the state's seven-year statute of limitations has expired.

Oakdale, Minn., police and officials from the Bristol, Mass., district attorney's office questioned Porter for about 2 1/2 hours yesterday morning, following allegations this week by an Oakdale resident who claimed to have been molested by Porter in the 1980s.

Dozens of men and women in New England have said Porter, then a priest, raped or sexually molested them while they were children in the 1960s.

Oakdale Police Detective William Hutton said Porter voluntarily came in for questioning. "I went to his house and knocked on his door this morning and asked him if he would come in and talk to us," Hutton said from Oakdale, a suburb of St. Paul. "He did."

Hutton said police are continuing their investigation, but unless additional accusers come forward alleging more recent cases of abuse, authorities are powerless to file charges.

"Will more victims come forward?" Hutton asked. "I wish I had a crystal ball so we'd know. I do know that we are continuing to make calls" to individuals who may have been victims or who know of victims.

Hutton declined to give any identifying information about the alleged victim, what was alleged or where the abuse occurred except to say it was allegedly in Oakdale. He said the accuser came forward after hearing New England media reports about the allegations made here against Porter.

Other sources said that at least one other Oakdale resident has come forward and alleged sexual abuse by Porter.

Forty-seven men and women in New England have said Porter raped and sexually molested them while they were children, during Porter's service as priest in parishes in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford. Porter, 58, left Massachusetts and the priesthood in 1967.

Now a married father of four, Porter has lived in Oakdale since the early 1970s.

Porter has declined repeated requests to speak to the Globe about the allegations. But in tape-recorded telephone conversations with one of his alleged victims, Frank Fitzpatrick, a man Fitzpatrick identifies as Porter admitted having molested 50 to 100 boys and girls while a priest in Massachusetts.

In those conversations with Fitzpatrick, a 41-year-old Rhode Island private investigator who said he was repeatedly raped and molested by Porter, Porter assured the former altar boy that he was cured of his "problem" by leaving the priesthood in 1970. Porter also told Fitzpatrick that his concern for children in Porter's Oakdale neighborhood was unwarranted.

Hutton said Fitzpatrick called him in 1990 to "warn" him about Porter, but until this week his department had not received any complaints about Porter from residents there.

Roderick MacLeish, a Boston lawyer representing Fitzpatrick and most of the other alleged victims, said his clients had mixed feelings about the news from Minnesota.

"First there was a sense of happiness that they had taken a step which may save other children from suffering their fate," MacLeish said in an interview from his home. "Then there was a sense of horror that others may have been victims of Father Porter after he left Massachusetts."

MacLeish said the only universal feeling among his clients is anger and frustration that no criminal charges have been filed against Porter and that he has not been arrested.

Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh "is committing a lot of resources to this investigation . . . but a lot of people are concerned that Father Porter will bolt and get away," MacLeish said.

"There's an enormous sense of anger that Father Porter waged a war in southeast Massachusetts and left a battlefield of victims and yet he's still free and living in his house," he continued. "There's a feeling that it's time to convene a grand jury and get the process going."

MacLeish said his office has been overwhelmed in trying to help the victims, and in some cases their parents, cope with their emotional trauma. He said he is disappointed that Cardinal Bernard Law and the Catholic Church haven't come forward with an emergency fund to help victims seeking counseling.

"I spent yesterday afternoon with yet another victim. He was on the phone with me 45 minutes, weeping," MacLeish said last night. "I was the first person he had told about his abuse. We can listen and try to be empathetic, sympathetic and understanding, but we're lawyers, not therapists."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 5/23/1992.
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