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Group criticizes church response to sex offenders

By Elizabeth Stankiewicz, Contributing Reporter, 7/26/1992

 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
ictims of sexual abuse by priests decried the Roman Catholic Church's handling of abuse at a conference in Boston yesterday, saying the church is failing to address the pain of the victims, treating them as a threat while protecting the abusers.

Members of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP,a Chicago-based support group, met with New England area abuse victims at Boston University's School of Management. The session was partly in response to the recent rash of sexual abuse charges brought against area clergy.

"The church's hierarchy has reacted very insensitively to many of us," said David Clohessy, a St. Louis member of the group, who said that many people abused by priests feel victimized again by the lack of a strong church policy to deal with priests who are sex offenders.

"The church has to mandate an international policy which will be forced upon the diocese, not an informal one that individual bishops can choose to follow," said Frank Fitzpatrick, a Cranston, R.I., private detective who said he was molested as a boy by James R. Porter, a former priest. Porter has been accused of molesting children in southeastern Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico.

"Theologians have responded in abstracts, but it's time for them to become more involved," said Fitzpatrick, who started a support group in Cranston.

Fitzpatrick said he repressed memories of his alleged abuse and suffered from unexplained depression and self-esteem problems until he recalled the abuse in 1989. Fitzpatrick said he then contacted Porter because, "I couldn't live with myself if this guy was still abusing kids and I didn't do anything about it."

When he contacted him in Minnesota, Fitzpatrick said Porter, although receptive, seemed as if he was merely trying to placate Fitzpatrick.

Despite Porter's claims that he is cured, Fitzpatrick said he and other alleged victims think Porter "isn't the type to stop until he's in jail. I want him there for life. He should have been there since 1963" when he began abusing children, Fitzpatrick said.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., a Boston lawyer who represents 60 of the people who accuse Porter of abusing them, said the church has not contested the legality of their claims, but has failed to treat Porter's and other priests' alleged abuse as a crime.

"The church is going to have to start getting more intimately involved and treating the matter as a legal issue," MacLeish said, adding that he and his clients are hopeful that Porter will be prosecuted in Massachusetts.

Porter's alleged abuse has brought the issue to a forefront, but some say similar accusations are met with resistance from church officials in other denominations as well.

"We have experienced across the country denial, refusal to admit the abuse and, worst of all, a conspiracy to cover up the abuse" by church officials, said Barbara Blaine, who founded the survivors network as a means to confront and heal the pain she said she suffered after being abused by a priest in the Midwest.

Blaine said that although members of the Boston Archdiocese were not expressly invited to yesterday's meeting, "they could have come, just as anyone could have."

Jennifer Kraskouskas, 18, of Gardner, said she was abused by a priest when she was 8 years old and that it continued for two years. She said she did not repress the memories but was unable to bring herself to speak of the abuse until she was 16.

"He told me I would never live it down if I told anyone," said Kraskouskas, who said she continues to be affected by the abuse.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 7/26/1992.
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