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Fall River father says diocese not responsive to complaint

By Linda Matchan, Globe Staff, 8/4/1992

 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
ive months after a Fall River father complained to church officials that his 14-year-old son had been repeatedly subjected to sexually suggestive language by the family's parish priest, diocesan officials have yet to conduct a thorough investigation of the family's claims, according to the father.

Fall River Diocese "authorities have never spoken to us about this," said the man, who has asked that his family not be identified. "As far as diocesan authorities are concerned, they show no cooperation or compassion. I feel we are adversaries. We are hitting a brick wall at every level."

The man's complaints come at a time when the Fall River Diocese is under scrutiny for its handling of the case of James Porter, a priest who served in three parishes in the diocese in the 1960s. Porter, who was expelled from the priesthood in the 1970s, has been accused of sexually molesting scores of children and young people while a priest in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford; in a July 14 statement Porter admitted he "sexually abused a number of children" as a priest. Church officials have been criticized for permitting Porter to be transferred from parish to parish without informing parishioners and others in the church of his problems.

Last week, Bishop Sean O'Malley, the incoming bishop of Fall River, acknowledged the church has made "serious errors in the past" that "will not be repeated" in its handling of abuse by clergy in the diocese, and he vowed to investigate why church officials failed to take stronger action against Porter after he was accused of molesting children.

The Fall River man said it was in March -- before the accusations against Porter became public -- that his son told him the priest, who supervises altar boys and runs an after-school religious program, was "talking dirty with him." He said his son was both an altar boy and a religious school student and for several months he and another youth had accepted occasional invitations from the priest, who was new to the church, to go shopping or to restaurants.

As the 14-year-old outlined in a March 25 letter to the diocese's chancellor, Msgr. John Oliveira, the priest was "abusive in his language and gestures."

He said the priest "repeatedly used dirty words and expressions" such as "jerking off" and "dick" and accused the teen-ager of masturbating in the back seat of the car "because the windows were foggy." He said the priest accused him of having anal intercourse and repeatedly asked him if he were homosexual.

Contacted yesterday by telephone, the priest denied the youth's charges, saying "there is nothing to this." He referred the call to diocesan officials. Diocesan spokesman John Kearns said yesterday he was not aware of the teen-ager's allegations and diocesan attorney Fred Torfey refused to comment.

The church pastor also declined to discuss the matter. "If you want my opinion . . . this is a nonstory," he said. "We're all getting a little bit bashed here."

The Fall River man said that after his son told him about the priest's alleged behavior, he told him to quit the altar boys and the religious school.

He said he also telephoned Msgr. Oliveira on two occasions and informed him of his concerns but the monsignor only encouraged him to discuss it with the church pastor and "was careful not to say anything substantial." He said Msgr. Oliveira did not ask him any questions about the allegations or seek any information from the family beyond what was detailed in the teen-ager's letter.

The father said the pastor, on the other hand, did "show compassion and deep concern" for the youth but stated that the matter would have to be handled by diocesan authorities.

The father said he learned Sunday during a chance meeting with his pastor that the church had sent the priest "to a place in Hartford for two sessions." The pastor told the man the priest "was found to be OK."

"I disagree," said the father, who said he is very concerned "that if the priest is still having contact with boys, the boys will be subjected to what my son was subjected to or even worse."

He added: "I would not be going through this grief if not for the purpose of protecting any other boys that he might be in contact with." He said he was dismayed to read in a July 19 parish newsletter that the priest will be supervising altar boys as well as religious classes next year.

The father, who describes himself as a "devout Catholic," said he reported the accusations to the Fall River police in March and has also had his son evaluated by a psychologist at a Rhode Island hospital to see if the youth had suffered any adverse effects from the alleged incidents.

In a report to Roderick MacLeish Jr., the family's attorney, the psychologist wrote that he found the youth's "allegations regarding the priest to be credible. I have no reason to doubt his reports of inappropriate sexual comments." He also recommended that the priest undergo an "immediate and thorough psychological or psychiatric evaluation" and that his future interactions with minors in the parish "should be supervised closely."

The father says he also informed the parents of the other youth who was allegedly subjected to the priest's sexual comments, but the parents "immediately responded defensively. They didn't want to get involved."

Yesterday, Capt. Cathleen L. Moniz of the Fall River Police Department said detectives have been looking into the allegations, and have spoken to the priest, the youth "and several other parties."

"I have at this point no reason to doubt statements made to us by the boy," Moniz said but added: "Verbal sexual references do not constitute a crime. We do not believe criminal actions have taken place. But that doesn't mean that the alleged incidents didn't take place."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 8/4/1992.
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