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Porter admits abusing children as priest, apologizes

Says he remained in clergy until 1974

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 7/15/1992

 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
fter keeping silent for more than two months in the face of allegations that he had molested scores of children as a Roman Catholic priest in Massachusetts, Minnesota and possibly elsewhere, James R. Porter admitted yesterday that he had sexually abused "a number of children" while in the priesthood.

In a one-paragraph statement in which he apologized for his actions, Porter stated that he had not abused any children since he left the priesthood in 1974, which is four years later than had been previously reported.

"I was a very sick man while I was a Roman Catholic priest in the 1960s," Porter said. "As a result of my illness, I sexually abused a number of children. I sought help for my illness on several occasions and, when I finally realized I could not control my behavior while remaining a priest, I left the priesthood. I have not had sexual contact with any child since I left the priesthood in 1974. I am deeply sorry for all of the pain that I have caused, particularly to the children and their families."

Porter, who now lives in a suburb of St. Paul with his wife and four children, said in the statement released by a lawyer there that he would not be available for further comment. His lawyer refused to answer questions, including a request to identify the churches or dioceses where Porter had served between 1970 and 1974.

Porter served in Massachusetts parishes in the 1960s and in a Minnesota parish in 1969-70. A lawsuit filed yesterday by an Albuquerque lawyer alleged that Porter had served as a part-time pastor in 1972 and 1973 in a small New Mexico parish and abused two boys there.

Porter's written statement contained two apparent inconsistencies with statements he made last year in several hours of recorded telephone interviews with Frank Fitzpatrick, a Rhode Island private investigator, who says he was abused by Porter in the 1960s.

Porter told Fitzpatrick, who had tracked him down in Minnesota, that he had been forced to leave the priesthood. His statement yesterday implied he left voluntarily. He also told Fitzpatrick that he left the church in 1969, not 1974, as he said yesterday.

Porter's statement came within hours of the announcement at a St. Paul news conference that seven men will file lawsuits against Porter and the Catholic Church alleging that Porter had sexually abused them while he served as a priest in Minnesota in 1969 and 1970.

Attorney Jeffrey Anderson filed the lawsuits on behalf of the seven former altar boys at St. Philip's Church, in a parish in Bemidji, Minn., where Porter served as assistant priest in 1969 and 1970. According to Anderson, Porter was assigned to St. Philip's after a New Mexico treatment center run by the Catholic Church pronounced him cured of a compulsion to molest children.

The lawsuit also charges that church officials "systematically and clandestinely" transferred Porter from one parish to another despite a history of sexual abuse, and "held Porter out to the new parishes as a competent, fit and moral Roman Catholic priest."

"It is their problem and it is their practice, and it has caused these children to be sacrificial lambs," Anderson said.

Two of the seven whom Porter allegedly abused in the Bemidji parish appeared at the St. Paul news conference. Dan Dow, 34, and James Grimm, 34, said news reports of Porter's alleged behavior in Massachusetts were part of the reason they came forward. "All the memories came rushing back in my head," Grimm said. "It felt like my head was going to explode."

Both were in sixth grade at the time they were allegedly assaulted by Porter. They said Porter repeatedly abused them after Mass when they served as altar boys and when he coached the basketball team at St. Philip's school.

The lawsuits are the first formal claims of sexual abuse filed against Porter, a Boston-area native, who has been accused by scores of people of molesting them while he was a priest.

In addition to Porter, named as defendants in the lawsuits are the diocese of Crookston, Minn., where the Bemidji church is located, the Fall River Diocese, where Porter served between 1963 and 1967, and The Servants of the Paraclete Inc., the New Mexico center that treated Porter in the 1960s and possibly the 1970s.

Porter's lawyer, Bruce Jones, declined to say where Porter might have served as a priest between 1970, when he was expelled from the Bemidji parish, and 1974, when he said he left the priesthood. However, a lawsuit filed yesterday by Bruce Pasternack, an Albuquerque lawyer, alleged that Porter had served as a part-time pastor in 1972 and 1973 at St. Edwin's Church, in a small parish near the Paraclete treatment center in Jemez Springs, N.M. While at the church, he abused two young boys, Pasternack's suit alleged.

Nancy Ryland, communications director for the Santa Fe Archdiocese, where St. Edwin's is located, said church officials were checking their personnel files to determine if Porter had served there during the 1970s. The former priest in the parish told the Albuquerque Journal Monday that he often used priests being treated at the Paraclete center to fill in for him but could not recall if Porter had been one of them.

The Fall River Diocese, which under church rules had ultimate responsibility for what parishes Porter could be transferred to, released a statement expressing "profound sadness" at the accusations leveled in the lawsuits but declined further comment. Officials of the Crookston Diocese and the New Mexico treatment center declined to comment on the lawsuits.

The office of Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh, which is investigating the allegations of abuse by Porter to determine if he should be prosecuted, could not be reached for comment.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., a Boston lawyer who represents more than 60 persons allegedly molested by Porter at churches in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford, said that Porter's statement amounted to a "public confession" and should assist Walsh in his investigation.

However, MacLeish said that the accusers to whom he had spoken yesterday rejected Porter's apology. "It is too little, too late. It does not mitigate, justify or excuse the predatory and horrendous behavior that he put these people through as children," he said.

MacLeish said that after learning of Porter's statement, he contacted Porter's lawyer and requested that Porter consent to an interview with MacLeish.

If Porter is truly apologetic for his actions, MacLeish said, he should help in the efforts by investigators to determine who within the Catholic Church authorized his transfers to other churches knowing that he was sexually abusing children.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 7/15/1992.
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