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Alleged victims urge release of Porter files

Assail diocese for failing to disclose accusations

By Linda Matchan and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 10/22/1992

 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
ames R. Porter told FBI agents investigating the disappearance of a Minnesota youth in 1989 that he had molested 30 to 40 children while a priest in Southeastern Massachusetts, but the agents failed to turn the information over to Massachusetts officials, sources told the Globe yesterday.

The sources, who have examined an FBI document on the interrogation, said Porter was questioned by the agents about the kidnapping of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling in St. Joseph, a town near Porter's home. The source said Porter provided authorities with an alibi that convinced them he was not involved in the youth's disappearance.

However, during the interrogation Porter told the FBI he had molested 30 to 40 youths while a priest in southeastern Massachusetts in the early 1960s, according to the source. There was no indication in the FBI report that his admission was shared with law enforcement officials in Massachusetts.

The allegations concerning Porter's molestation of youths while a priest in the Fall River diocese during the early 1960s were brought to light this year by a Rhode Island private detective who was one of those allegedly assaulted by Porter.

Meanwhile, several alleged victims of sexual molestation by Porter reacted bitterly yesterday to the disclosure that diocesan personnel records show Porter was allowed to work in several parishes even though church officials were aware of his sexual abuse of children.

The alleged victims, who have led a crusade to have Porter held responsible for sexual abuse during the 1960s, demanded that the Fall River Roman Catholic Diocese make the documents public.

"I am outraged," said Frank Fitzpatrick, a Rhode Island private investigator who says he was molested by Porter while a student at St. Mary's school in North Attleborough.

"The church has not admitted knowing anything about this, and they have been saying publicly" in the Fall River diocesan newspaper "that the allegations against Porter are overblown, while at the same time they had his personnel file sitting there," Fitzpatrick said.

The Globe reported yesterday that Porter's personnel file, which recently was turned over to the Bristol district attorney's office, contained records that show two of Porter's fellow priests at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough confronted him in June 1963 with allegations that he was abusing children. In addition, Bishop James L. Connolly was made aware of the allegations against Porter by March 1964.

In ensuing years, Bishop Connolly received notice on at least four occasions that Porter had been accused of abusing other children, but allowed him to work at parishes on either a temporary or full-time basis. Porter resigned from the priesthood in 1974.

Despite the repeated allegations, no one in the church , reported his behavior to law enforcement authorities or parents.

In recent months, Porter has been accused in civil and criminal courts of abusing more than 70 people in Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico since the story broke in May that he allegedly had molested children during his tenure as a priest between 1960 and 1974.

This summer, Porter acknowledged publicly that he had molested children while in the priesthood, but not since returning to lay life in 1974.

Dan Lyons, another alleged victim from North Attleborough, said the documents showed that even from the beginning, Porter's needs were regarded more seriously than those of his alleged victims. There is no indication in any of the files obtained by the Globe that provisions were being made for the welfare of the children involved.

"Isn't it sad that Porter was continuously given consideration by the church, and that we were offered nothing," Lyons said. He called on the Fall River Diocese to release the hundreds of pages of personnel records it had maintained on Porter.

Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., who is representing more than 70 of Porter's alleged victims, said yesterday he found the new information regarding the diocese's knowledge of Porter's activities "horrifying." However, he said he is optimistic positive changes will come out of it "for the children of tomorrow."

MacLeish said he has been working with Fall River diocesan officials to develop a coherent and effective policy "geared toward protecting children." He said it would include "a meaningful education policy within the church," a mechanism for reporting abuse and psychological screening of seminary applicants to identify potential abusers.

MacLeish has been negotiating with the Fall River Diocese to obtain damages on behalf of his clients. He said the documents would not affect those negotiations.

Bishop Sean O'Malley of the Fall River Diocese could not be reached for comment. In a statement, the diocese said it had cooperated fully with the grand jury investigation and turned over its personnel records on Porter after the material had been requested by District Attorney Paul Walsh.

Richard Fabio, a spokesman for Walsh, said the district attorney's office would have no comment because the material involved pending litigation. Fabio declined to say whether investigators are questioning Rev. Armando Annunziato, one of the two priests who confronted Porter on sexual abuse allegations in 1963, about why he did not relay the information to his superiors. Father Annunziato has refused to be interviewed.

In Minnesota yesterday, Porter asked a judge to dismiss a complaint accusing him of abusing a girl who baby-sat his children. Porter, who lives with his wife and four children in a suburb of St. Paul, did not enter a plea, but his lawyer made several motions before Washington County District Judge Kenneth Maas.

Attorney Paul Lukas asked Maas to drop all six counts against Porter, arguing the complaint against him failed to name a specific time frame. Lukas also contended the complaint did not lay out a factual basis for two of the three alleged incidents.

County prosecutors argued they had provided sufficient information about the assault, which allegedly took place in 1987, to comply with Minnesota law.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 10/22/1992.
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