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Man says charge made before Porter was priest

By Linda Matchan and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 10/23/1992

 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
n the first evidence that Catholic Church officials knew about James R. Porter's alleged sexual abuse before he entered the priesthood, an FBI agent said yesterday that Porter molested him at a Catholic summer camp in 1956.

The agent, who grew up in southeastern Massachusetts, said in interviews with the Globe that he informed church officials who supervised the camp that Porter, who was about to enter a seminary, had molested him two or three times.

Even so, Porter was hired back as a counselor at the camp in Freetown for the following two summers, according to the agent, who asked that his name not be used because, he said, he has never divulged the incident to his family.

The alleged molestation occurred the summer between Porter's graduation from Boston College and the beginning of his studies for the priesthood at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.

If true, the Washington-based agent's allegations would indicate that officials of the Fall River Diocese knew that Porter had been accused of molesting children before accepting him for the priesthood in 1960.

During the decade that followed, Porter was also allowed to continue in the priesthood even though church officials were well aware of the numerous allegations against him, according to his diocesan personnel files.

The FBI agent, now 48, said the incidents took place when he was a 12-year- old senior camper at the Freetown Cathedral Camp. The man said Porter, like many seminarians, worked summers at the Freetown camp for boys and was put in charge of the dormitory. He said on two or three occasions he was awakened at night by Porter, who had "climbed on top of me" and straddled him from behind.

The agent said he was confused about what was happening, and after the second or third incident went to see Rev. William McMahon, who supervised activities at the camp. "I told him what happened and said, 'Is there something wrong with this?' He said, 'Yeah, and I'll take care of it.' Porter never bothered me again."

The man said he did not know if any other boys at camp had had similar experiences, and first learned that others in Massachusetts were accusing Porter of sexual abuse when he read newspaper articles this past May.

Records in Porter's diocesan personnel file show he was working as a 21- year-old counselor at the Cathedral Camp in 1956, under the supervision of a "Rev. McMahon." Porter completed his seminary work in 1960, graduating with an 82.5 average, and took on his first appointment as curate on April 8, 1960, at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough.

Porter has been accused of molesting scores of children in Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico, and last month was indicted on 46 sexual abuse charges involving 32 men and women in Bristol County. He has also been indicted in Minnesota on six charges of alleged sexual misconduct with a babysitter in 1987 and faces civil charges involving incidents with more than a dozen Minnesota and New Mexico youths.

There is no record in any of Porter's personnel documents to suggest that Porter's supervisors at St. Mary's Seminary were told about any sexual problems Porter might have had. Indeed, upon graduation Porter received a positive letter of recommendation from the seminary's rector, Rev. Eugene I. Van Antperp.

"A manly, genuine young man, seemingly disorganized, Mr. Porter has managed to achieve a great deal in his years in the seminary," the rector wrote.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Minnesota said yesterday that in late 1989 the FBI had turned over to local police there a statement in which Porter acknowledged having molested 40-50 youths while in the priesthood. The chief of the Oakdale (Minn.) Police Department, which received the report, did not return phone calls yesterday to answer whether the department had informed law enforcement authorities in Massachusetts about the statement.

Porter had been interviewed in December 1989 in connection with the kidnapping of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling, who was abducted Oct. 22, 1989 by an armed man in St. Joseph's, Minn.

"We interviewed hundreds of people in that case based on tips that we got about anyone who had been suspected of being involved in any sexual crimes with children," Grant Beise, an FBI agent in Minneapolis, said.

Frank Fitzpatrick, a Rhode Island private investigator who has said Porter raped him several times in 1962, said yesterday that police in Oakdale, Minn. might have had a file on Porter because in November 1989 he informed Oakdale detectives that Porter had molested him and about a dozen other youths in the 1960s. Porter was married and living in Oakdale.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 10/23/1992.
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