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Bishop to aid Porter accusers

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 8/21/1992

 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
ollowing a meeting with alleged victims of sexual abuse by a former Roman Catholic priest in the Fall River Diocese, Bishop Sean P. O'Malley said yesterday he will establish a fund to pay for psychological counseling for the alleged victims.

Bishop O'Malley said in a statement that he met Tuesday night with 18 people who have alleged they were molested by James R. Porter and offered them his sympathy and a pledge of support.

"I listened to their stories and their pain," Bishop O'Malley said. "We cried together, we laughed together, we prayed together."

Although Cardinal Bernard Law had previously advised those victims of Porter's alleged abuse who needed counseling to visit local priests, Bishop O'Malley said yesterday that the diocese would be willing to pay for the services of private therapists.

Roderick MacLeish, a Boston lawyer who represents about 70 alleged victims, applauded the announcement. "I think this is a very positive first step," MacLeish said. "This will go a long way to getting people access to therapy which they need."

MacLeish said he did not know how much money will be set aside for the counseling services, but stressed that "as an initial matter, the arrangements are satisfactory."

Bishop O'Malley, who took over as bishop of the Fall River Diocese last week, also said that he intends to say Masses in the several churches in southeastern Massachusetts where Porter is alleged to have molested youngsters between 1960 and 1967, his years in the diocese.

In addition, the bishop said he is working to create a policy on sexual abuse and educational programs for priests in the diocese. "The victims told me that their No. 1 concern is to protect children," he said in the statement. "I told them that I am their ally in this goal."

He said he had established a committee to draft a proposal on how to deal with priests who are alleged to have sexually abused parishioners. Many of the alleged victims have called on Bishop O'Malley to ensure that lay persons serve on any committee that would hear allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Allegations that Porter sexually abused children also have surfaced in Rhode Island, Minnesota and New Mexico.

Porter, a native of Revere, was first assigned as a priest to St. Mary's parish in North Attleborough in 1960. After parents there complained about him, he was transferred in 1963 to Sacred Heart parish in Fall River. He was transferred to St. James parish in New Bedford in 1965, to New Mexico in 1967 and then to Minnesota.

The case has led to accusations that the church tried to cover up the alleged abuse by shuttling Porter from parish to parish, all the while allowing him to work with children.

Porter, 58, is married with four children and lives in Minnesota. No charges have been filed against him, but Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh is considering whether to bring the allegations against him to a grand jury.

Bishop O'Malley pledged in his announcement to cooperate fully with Walsh's investigation. However, one possible key witness in the probe, Rev. Armando Annunziato, reportedly has told the bishop and Walsh's investigators that he will not assist in the investigation. According to WBZ-TV, Father Annunziato denied to authorities that he witnessed Porter abusing children at St. Mary's Church when both men were assigned there, and said he knew nothing of the accusations against Porter until they surfaced in May.

Several alleged victims have said that Father Annunziato, who was Porter's superior, walked in on Porter while he was molesting them, but took no action to stop him.

Bishop O'Malley's statement comes within days of a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the diocese's insurance company to seek to relieve itself of financial liability in the Porter case. The lawsuit by Continental Insurance Co. put on hold plans between the alleged victims and the diocese to begin mediation on Monday to settle potential claims that are certain to arise out of Porter's alleged abuses.

MacLeish yesterday called on Bishop O'Malley to re-commit to the mediation sessions as soon as possible, even without Continental, or face his filing of lawsuits on the alleged victims' behalf. "We need to know as soon as possible whether my clients' cases will be litigated or mediated," MacLeish said.

In its brief, Continental argued that the diocese had been negligent in not removing Porter from contact with children, despite growing evidence that he was abusing them, and in allowing for his transfer from parish to parish.

A lawyer for the insurance company acknowledged yesterday that it had no independent evidence that the diocese knew that Porter was still sexually dangerous when it approved his transfers to parishes in New Mexico and Minnesota. Instead, the lawyer said, the insurance company had based that claim on other lawsuits filed against Porter by alleged victims in those two states.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 8/21/1992.
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