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Diocese allegedly was told of abuse

Man says then-Msgr. Medeiros heard claim about priest

By Linda Matchan, Globe Staff, 6/10/1992

 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
former North Attleborough resident and town official says that in 1963 he twice reported the alleged molestation of his nephew by Rev. James Porter to the late Humberto Medeiros, then chancellor of the Fall River diocese.

Henry Viens said in an interview yesterday that Monsignor Medeiros assured him at the time that the matter would be "taken care of immediately" and Father Porter removed from St. Mary's Church and sent for "rehabilitation."

But despite the assurances of the chancellor, who seven years later became bishop of the Boston archdiocese, Porter was transferred to Sacred Heart Church in Fall River, where he was allowed to supervise altar boys and other children, and was transferred again in 1965 to St. James Church in New Bedford, where he remained until 1967, when he left the priesthood.

In the last few weeks dozens of men and women have come forward to say that Porter sexually molested them as children in all three parishes, during the 1960s. Many of them are now pushing for a criminal investigation of Porter, who now lives in Minnesota with his wife and four children.

The Bristol district attorney's office is looking into the allegations.

"I am so upset that the diocese did not do anything about it when I approached them. They just didn't carry it through," said Viens, a businessman who for 15 years served on the Board of Assessors in North Attleborough, where he also was a sewer commissioner.

Viens, who now lives in Fairhaven, said he discovered only three weeks ago that his daughter also was allegedly molested by Porter, fueling his decision to come forward.

"I was thinking at the time that I had done the greatest thing in my life by telling Medeiros and then I find out it all went down the drain," Viens said yesterday, his voice breaking.

Monsignor Medeiros was elevated to cardinal in 1973. Prior to returning to Boston, he served four years as bishop of Brownsville, Texas. He died in 1983 and was succeeded by Cardinal Bernard Law.

Yesterday, John Walsh, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said the archdiocese could not "really comment on the appropriateness of what action was or was not taken in another diocese by the man on the spot at the time, who was . . . then Monsignor Medeiros.

"Other than that . . . I will reiterate statements Cardinal Law has made that we share the grief of individuals at the horrible nature of the stories and allegations that have come forward and all we can do in this instance is continue to listen respectfully as individuals come forward to tell their stories."

There is currently no presiding bishop in the Fall River diocese, and Cardinal Law, as archbishop, plays a limited advisory role.

Recently, Viens said, he learned that his brother-in-law also complained about Porter to a parish priest.

According to attorney Eric MacLeish of the Boston law firm Eckert, Seamans, who is representing 38 of Porter's accusers, the Viens' family story shows that "not just the parish was involved but people very high up in the church."

Indeed, he said it is clear that church authorities were aware of the alleged molestations even before Viens went to Monsignor Medeiros.

In July 1963, Viens said his sister, Claire Calderone, told him that her son Peter, who was then an altar boy 10 or 11 years old, had been molested by Porter. Viens said his sister, now deceased, pleaded with him to tell church authorities because Viens was very involved with the parish and knew Rev. Ed Booth, the pastor of the parish.

He said he went immediately to St. Mary's Church and told Father Booth, also now deceased, about the alleged molestation, informing him that he intended to report it to Bishop James Connolly of the Fall River diocese. He said Father Booth, whom he described as "a man that never showed too much emotion," appeared surprised. Father Booth telephoned the chancery and made arrangements to see Monsignor Medeiros that day, saying the bishop was out of town.

According to Viens, the two then drove to the chancery and Viens minced no words about his concerns. "I told him my sister said if he's not out of North Attleborough by tonight, she would be going to the newspapers tomorrow. I said, 'Do you know what will happen in this little town? This man should not be involved with children.' "

Viens said Monsignor Medeiros listened carefully to what he was saying and promised to talk to the bishop about it. Viens said the chancellor also told Booth he wanted Porter to leave the church "bag and baggage -- those were his words. He said, 'Does that satisfy you? We'll do the best we can.' To me, he sounded very sincere," said Viens. "He told me they would send him to rehabilitation on the other side of Boston."

He said Porter did in fact leave the church immediately, though he and other parishioners were not formally informed by the church where he went or of the fact that he left under questionable circumstances.

Nor was the town evidently aware of it: On July 11, the North Attleboro Evening Chronicle reported in a front-page story that Porter was transferred to Fall River's Sacred Heart Church, and noted that "he has been a fine assistant at the local church ever since he came here three years ago. He was beloved by the youngsters and highly regarded by all adults with whom he came in contact."

Viens, however, did not become aware that Porter had moved to Fall River until six weeks after his meeting with Monsignor Medeiros, when he heard the news by chance from a cousin in Fall River. He said he was enraged to discover that Porter was still in the diocese, and went immediately back to Monsignor Medeiros.

"I looked at him and said, 'Monsignor, I am so disappointed in you. Do you know what you people have done? You've sent him to a bigger parish to let him abuse other children.'

"He said, "I didn't know where he was.' " Viens asked him why he was transferred and he said Monsignor Medeiros replied, "I can't answer you."

"I could not believe this, I was so devastated," Viens said. "He said to me, 'I'll put him away.' I said, 'I heard this two months ago.' I could not believe he lied to me like this."

Nevertheless, Viens said he still accepted the chancellor's assurance that he would "take care" of the matter, and when he "didn't hear any more of it," assumed that Monsignor Medeiros had.

A year ago, he happened to meet the mother of another alleged victim of Porter who told him that there were other molestations and that Porter had remained in the diocese until 1967.

Three weeks ago his own daughter, Patricia Kozak, now 44, told him that she, too, had been molested by Porter when she was 11 or 12, at least three times in the church rectory. Kozak said in an interview that she repressed the experience until a year ago, and now recalls that Porter warned her at the time that "God is watching me now."

"If I had only known my daughter was involved I would have gone after that man," Viens said in tears. "My children lived with this for 30 years. I am a hard man, but I get to weeping at times. Now, I have to live it all over again."

He said he also learned recently that his brother-in-law, Paul Calderone, had also tried unsuccessfully to have church authorities remove Porter, after his son Peter told him that the priest had molested him several times.

Calderone said in an interview yesterday that he spoke to Rev. Armando Annunciato, a curate at St. Mary's, and demanded that he or the church do something about it immediately.

"He said, I don't remember the exact words, but something to the effect of 'Father Porter is human, too.' I told him in no uncertain terms that he used the wrong word -- he should have said 'inhuman.' "

More than five women and men, including Peter Calderone, have said that Father Annunciato interrupted Porter during alleged molestations, by either walking in or knocking on the door and asking him what he was doing.

Connie Lyons, the father of one alleged victim, said he told Father Annunciato about it even before Viens reported it to church authorities. He said the curate told him he couldn't do anything about it, and referred him to Father Booth, who in turn referred him to Bishop Connolly.

Lyons, a North Attleborough chemist, said he was "kind of stunned" by the officials' lack of interest, so he decided to confront Porter directly.

"I told him he had a big problem with the altar boys, and I told him that had two choices -- he could go to the bishop, or I would. " He said Porter acknowledged to him that he had a problem, and Lyons then told Porter that he needed psychiatric help. Taking matters into his own hands, Lyons arranged an appointment for Porter with a Boston psychiatrist, and in the weeks that followed, personally drove him to two appointments. A few weeks later, Porter left St. Mary's Church.

Lyons said he saw the priest only once more, two years later at a bishop's ball.

"He greeted me -- he was in clerical garb -- and said, 'Hi,' and I asked him how he was doing. He said, 'Great,' " Lyons recalled. " 'I feel great. Everything's fine.' "

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 6/10/1992.
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