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Church is asked to pay for aid in sex case

By Linda Matchan, Globe Staff, 5/26/1992

 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
he attorney representing nine of the alleged sexual abuse victims of former Massachusetts priest James R. Porter says he has written to Cardinal Bernard Law asking the Archdiocese of Boston to set up an emergency fund for victims to receive counseling if they cannot afford it.

But despite being assured by the cardinal's office he would receive a prompt answer to his request, the lawyer, Roderick MacLeish Jr., said he has had no response to a letter sent May 14, nor to a second letter.

"My clients feel strongly that a fund should be set up for those who can't get access to clinical health care," MacLeish said. "In many cases they are unemployed, with no access to mental health services. We hope the cardinal will do the right thing."

Efforts to reach the cardinal's spokesman last night were unsuccessful.

Although MacLeish represents nine of the numerous men and women who have said they were raped and sexually molested by Porter, he said he has been in contact with a total of 45 people. They have said Porter molested them during his tenure as a priest in Roman Catholic parishes in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford.

Meanwhile in Providence, Bishop Louis E. Gelineau has denounced sexual molestation, while acknowledging a public perception that church leaders have tried to hide from the issue.

"It sickens my heart to be reminded once again, as we are only too painfully aware in our own diocese, that the terrible sickness of pedophilia rears its ugly head all too often within clerical ranks," he wrote in a column in the Providence Visitor, the diocesan weekly newspaper.

He vowed that any allegations of misconduct by priests or others working for the Catholic church in Rhode Island would be thoroughly pursued.

Bishop Gelineau said he was aware that many people believed "the church leadership, myself included, has over the years tried to hide" from the problem.

"Considering the horrible nature of these unspeakable crimes against children, it is certainly not a possibility we were readily prepared to acknowledge in the years past. I am not going to dwell on the past, but I feel compelled to speak to the present and the future," he said.

He said pedophilia was not any more common among priests than among lay people, but "even one priest is too many and as we know only too well there have been more than one."

Bishop Gelineau said that the church was going to "great lengths" to screen candidates of the priesthood to prevent the recurrence of such problems.

Bishop Gelineau told the Providence Journal-Bulletin that he wrote the column because of his sense of outrage at the reports on the Massachusetts priest and, "mindful of past scandals in our own diocese, to reassure the faithful that we are doing all we can."

While no lawsuit has yet been filed in the Porter case, MacLeish said he is working with his clients in an effort to have Porter prosecuted. Porter, now 58, left the priesthood in 1967 and lives in Oakdale, Minn. He is married and has four children.

MacLeish's nine clients have said they would sue the Catholic Church if it fails to compensate them for the damages they say they have suffered and if it does not help bring Porter to justice.

"We have requested the cardinal and diocese to set up an emergency fund so that some of the people calling me can be referred to trained mental health clinicians," MacLeish said. "I am a trained sexual-abuse attorney, but I have been fielding calls I am not equipped to handle." In some cases, he said, "I am the first person these people are telling they have been victimized, and I am not trained to handle people in crisis."

MacLeish, a Boston lawyer, said the alleged victims who have contacted him have dealt with their early trauma in different ways, but with certain common elements.

"Many have suffered horribly," he said. "Some are stellar members of the community, and some have tried to isolate themselves as much as possible, but even people who have seemingly done well on the surface, who are professionals, are suffering inside."

"One of the common things is that they have tried to compartmentalize trauma as much as they can," said MacLeish. "Some people have tried to repress what happened years ago, while others have tried to repress it with drugs and alcohol, although many have successfully conquered that. But one of the most fundamental things that has been affected is their faith. Most were raised in very devout households and when you are victimized by your priest, it is a double betrayal."

MacLeish added: "Some have an inability to have trusting relationships with others. There is no one way, no one symptom. But I hope people realize the amount of suffering has been inflicted, how much one person has caused."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 5/26/1992.
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