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Porter faces Mass. court as '87 abuse claim arises

By Linda Matchan, Globe Staff, 9/24/1992

 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
EW BEDFORD -- With dozens of his accusers looking on, former priest James R. Porter calmly pleaded innocent yesterday to 46 charges of sexual molestation alleged to have occurred nearly 30 years ago.

Porter himself posted the $20,000 cash bail set by Judge John M. Xifaras. But almost simultaneously, authorities in Washington County, Minn., announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Porter on six counts of criminal sexual conduct that allegedly took place in that state in 1987. Washington County Attorney Richard M. Arney said yesterday the charges were brought by Porter's former baby-sitter, who maintains that Porter sexually abused her in his home while she cared for his children.

Following his court appearance on the Massachusetts charges, Porter went to a rendition hearing at New Bedford District Court on the Minnesota allegations, according to Peter DeGelleke, Porter's attorney. DeGelleke said Porter will return voluntarily to Minnesota to face the new charges and will be arraigned in Washington County, possibly today.

The ex-priest appeared subdued and unemotional as he was led handcuffed into the courtroom flanked by two court officers. He was seated only a few feet from men and women, now in their late 30s and 40s, who have accused him of traumatizing them during their childhoods and have not seen him since they were in grade school.

Appearing thinner than he has on recent televised news shows, Porter, 57, wore an open-neck lavender shirt, gray wool jacket, dark slacks and loafers. Occasionally his eyes scanned his accusers, and throughout the proceedings his hands were clasped and head bowed as Bristol Assistant District Attorney Renee Dupuis described in explicit detail the nature of the allegations against him.

Over the past few months, more than 70 individuals have come forward to say they were sexually abused by Porter as children while he served as a parish priest in North Attleborough, Fall River, and New Bedford. Thirty-two accusers have been named in indictments.

Dupuis told the court that the sexual acts allegedly took place in church sacristies, in children's homes, and in Porter's car, among other locations. She said the offenses included fondling, rubbing up against the victims with his genitals, and rape, and alleged that Porter then told his victims that what had happened was their fault and that "God would punish them" for it.

She said that lead investigator Tom Carroll of the Bristol district attorney's office interviewed Porter on May 22 along with state Trooper Kevin Butler and William Hutton, a police detective from Oakdale, Minn., and that they videotaped his admission that he had sexually assaulted children while a priest in Massachusetts. She said that when Porter was asked by the state authorities about specific allegations, he responded, saying: "That sounds like what I was into at the time."

Some 60 accusers of Porter and their families filled four rows of the Bristol County courtroom yesterday and watched the proceedings silently, some with tears in their eyes or embracing their relatives. As Superior Court Clerk Magistrate Marc Santos tediously read out the counts one at a time, Porter uttered "not guilty" 46 times in an even voice.

In setting bail at $20,000, Xifaras imposed four conditions on Porter -- that he have no contact with the alleged victims; that he have no contact with children other than his own; that he report weekly by telephone to a probation officer; and that he surrender his passport. A pretrial conference was scheduled for Oct. 13.

Santos said Porter paid the $20,000 by bank check. "He seemed fine," said Santos. "He didn't seem depressed or anything."

After the court appearance, alleged victims huddled together outside the courthouse, many hugging each other and weeping.

Steve Johnson, who alleges that Porter sexually assaulted him in North Attleborough, said he felt "a lot of fear and anger" seeing Porter. "I finally got a look at this man and he gave me the creeps," he said. "I didn't take my eyes off him. I swear he recognized a few people. But I hope he was in touch wih his pain and guilt and shame."

Porter is also charged in civil suits in Minnesota and New Mexico alleging that he assaulted youths at a church in Bemidji, Minn., and in New Mexico following treatment at a center for troubled priests run by a Catholic order.

In a statement issued in July, Porter acknowledged that he had been a "very sick man" while a Roman Catholic priest but stated he had not had any sexual contact with children since leaving the priesthood in 1974.

However, in Minnesota, in an affidavit supporting the new criminal charges, Oakdale police Detective William Hutton said he has obtained a statement from a 20-year-old woman who alleges that in 1987, Porter directed her to take baths with his children while she baby-sat for them and that he "would come into the bathroom and with a towel rub or touch her over her body, including her private parts." According to Hutton's statement, on three other occasions Porter also "used force to have contact with her private areas."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 9/24/1992.
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