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Ex-priest accused in Minnesota

Former altar boys say Porter abused them

By Linda Matchan, Globe Staff, 7/14/1992

 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
T. PAUL -- After pronouncing him cured of the compulsion to molest children, a New Mexico treatment center for troubled Catholic priests reassigned former Massachusetts priest James Porter to a Minnesota church in 1969 where he molested at least a dozen altar boys over a year, according to a lawyer representing the alleged victims.

Since allegations surfaced in the spring that Porter sexually abused scores of children in three Massachusetts parishes in the 1960s, it has been reported that Porter retired from the priesthood in 1969 following rehabilitation at Servants of the Paraclete Inc., a church-run treatment center for priests in Jemez Springs, N.M.

But according to lawyer Jeffrey R. Anderson, church officials reassigned Porter at least once and possibly twice. Anderson said yesterday that church authorities at a diocese in northern Minnesota made Porter an associate priest at St. Philip's school and parish in Bemidji, where he served between August 1969 and September 1970.

In addition, Anderson said, he believes that Porter may have served as a part-time priest at a church in Albuquerque in 1972 and 1973, possibly after being readmitted to the Paraclete treatment center.

Msgr. Michael Patnode, chancellor of the Crookston Diocese, acknowledged yesterday that the pastor at St. Philip's had accepted Porter as associate priest on the recommendation of the Paraclete center. He said Porter had been assigned to a halfway house run by the treatment center in Nevis, a small town near Bemidji, which is a resort town of 11,000.

According to church officials, under church rules Porter would have needed the formal approval of the Fall River Diocese, where Porter had been assigned as a priest from 1960 to 1967, to transfer to the Minnesota church. But Msgr. Patnode said he could find no evidence that Fall River officials approved or knew that Porter had transferred to St. Philip's.

Msgr. Patnode said that a priest at Paraclete, whom he was able to identify only as Rev. Burwell, wrote to the Crookston Diocese in 1969 and stated that Porter had been rehabilitated and had his "problems under control."

Msgr. Patnode said that the Paraclete priests never informed the Crookston Diocese or St. Philip's parish that Porter was being treated for problems of sexual abuse of children. "I think we would have wanted to know what he had been treated for there at the Paraclete Order," Msgr. Patnode said in a telephone interview yesterday, adding, "This has caused us untold sorrow, and our hearts go out to any that he may have abused here."

Msgr. Patnode said that Porter had been expelled from St. Philip's after at least one parent told the parish priest that Porter was molesting children at the church.

Anderson said that after recent national publicity about Porter's alleged sexual abuse of children in the Fall River diocese, 12 more alleged victims, all males, have come forward to say that they were abused by Porter in Bemidji when they were children.

Seven of them, all former altar boys at St. Philip's school, will file civil lawsuits charging that church authorities once again reassigned Porter to parish work despite their knowledge of his sexual history.

James Grimm, 34, told the Globe that he had been sexually molested on repeated occasions while a 12-year-old altar boy at St. Philip's. He said Porter did "everything you can imagine," including oral sex and sodomy at least three times a week and more often during baseball season, when Porter was the school's coach.

Grimm said he had not known that others were being molested until the summer of 1970 when Porter took a group of altar boys to the Twin Cities to see a Minnesota Twins baseball game. That night Porter molested each of the altar boys who made the trip, Grimm said.

Shortly after that, Grimm said, another boy at the school told his parents about Porter's activities and they called Grimm's parents. A group of parents immediately confronted Rev. W. F. Lemen, the pastor, who at first denied the charges. But after parents threatened to call police, Lemen contacted Rev. Kenneth Povish, the bishop of the Crookston Diocese, and Porter was immediately removed from the church.

This was the last the families heard of Porter until a few weeks ago when the story of his activities broke in the news. "We were not offered help in any way, shape or form," Grimm said. "I'm more angry at the church than I am at Porter. He is not human, but the church made it easy for him to continue what he is doing. They buried his head in the sand. It's unfathomable."

The lawsuit will also charge the Servants of the Paraclete with negligence for recommending Porter be placed in parishes and suggesting he was cured.

The lawsuits mark the first legal action against the 59-year-old Porter, who left the priesthood sometime in the early 1970s and is now living in Oakdale, Minn., with his wife and four children. The Fall River Diocese will also be named as a defendant, Anderson said.

Because the alleged acts at the core of the civil lawsuit took place more than seven years ago, under the Minnestoa statute of limitations for rape Porter cannot be prosecuted for them. The Massachusetts statute of limitations froze once Porter left the state in 1967 and he can still be prosecuted for the dozens of alleged assaults he has been accused of committing here.

The Minnesota lawsuit also raises the possibility that Porter may not have retired from the priesthood after being expelled from St. Philip's in Bemidji. Anderson said he will charge in his lawsuit that the Paraclete Center authorized Porter to perform part-time parish work at St. Edwin's Church in Albuquerque in 1972 and 1973. Anderson said Porter served under the supervision of Rev. Clarence Galli, a psychotherapist and priest at St. Edwin's.

Anderson said that though no one has publicly accused Porter of improper acts while in New Mexico, he has been told by one lawyer there that a woman has told him that her two sons, aged 9 and 11, had been molested by Porter there.

In previous interviews with a private investigator, Porter had stated that he had left the priesthood after treatment at the Paraclete center. Porter told Frank Fitzpatrick, a Rhode Island private investigator who has said Porter molested him in North Attleborough, that he left the priesthood in 1969. Porter told the investigator that he had been fired.

Public records in St. Paul indicate that Porter moved to the city in 1970 and began working as a bank teller. While city directories there state he remained either a teller or loan officer until 1976, the bank refused to confirm the dates of his employment.

Officials at both the Paraclete Center and the Fall River Diocese failed to return phone calls yesterday. Porter could not be reached for comment.

The disclosure that Porter was reassigned to another parish despite the church's knowledge of his sexual problems is likely to bring further embarrassment to the Catholic Church. The Globe reported last week that Porter was never reported to the police or ordered to leave the priesthood even though several priests at the parishes he served in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford either witnessed Porter abusing children or were told of his activities by the children's parents.

Church officials said yesterday that Porter would have been under the authority of the Fall River Diocese during the period that he was being treated at the Paraclete center. For Porter to have been reassigned to the Minnesota or any other parish, one church official, who asked not to be named, he would have needed the approval of the Fall River Diocese as well as the Paraclete treatment center.

Msgr. Patnode said last night that his review of Minnesota records did not indicate that anyone at the Crookston Diocese or St. Philip's Church had ever spoken to the Fall River Diocese about allowing Porter to transfer to Minnesota. "I understand he would have still been assigned to his original diocese, but I find no record of our speaking to anyone there," Msgr. Patnode said.

Msgr. Patnode said that the St. Philip's parish had become aware that Porter had served there as an associate priest in early June when one of the parishoners noticed a news story about Porter in a local paper. On learning that he had served and been expelled as a priest there, Msgr. Patnode directed the current priest at St. Philip's to place a notice in the church bulletin.

Addressed to "Dear Sisters and Brothers," the notice from Rev. Rick Lambert read in part: "It has come to my attention that this former priest at one time was stationed at St. Philip's. I am deeply concerned that while he was here he might have victimized those most vulnerable -- children. If you know of any abuse that may have been caused by James Porter, I ask you to please talk with me."

Msgr. Patnode declined to say if anyone responded to Lambert's notice.

Globe staff writer Stephen Kurkjian contributed to this report.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 7/14/1992.
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