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Lawyer for Porter victims says 20 other priests in area are accused

By James L. Franklin, Globe Staff, 12/9/1993

 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
lawyer who has represented scores of victims of childhood sexual abuse said yesterday that he has forwarded child abuse accusations to Boston archdiocese officials involving 20 Boston area priests, and that all of them who were not already retired have been put on indefinite leave by the church.

The lawyer, Roderick MacLeish Jr., credited the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston with taking prompt action on the accusations, most of which were made within the past eight or nine months, he said.

Two of the accused clerics are deceased, and some others are retired, "but all individuals who were in active ministry have been placed in supervised situations where they will not have access to children," MacLeish said.

John B. Walsh, spokesman for the archdiocese, would neither confirm nor deny the numbers used by MacLeish.

But Walsh added that "any credible report, according to our procedures, will result in placement of a priest on administrative leave until the allegations can be resolved."

Of the accusations involving the 20 priests, the statute of limitations has expired in the cases involving all but one, said MacLeish, calling the legal procedures under which those cases can be handled "a totally imperfect system."

As a result, the procedures adopted by the Boston archdiocese 18 months ago will probably be the only means to handle these and similar accusations against clergy and other church workers.

"This should not be an issue in which a private law firm and the archdiocese are the exclusive participants," he said. "The responsibility should be with law enforcement agencies, but the problem in Massachusetts is that we have an extremely backward statute of limitations."

MacLeish has also represented 99 victims of former Fall River priest James Porter, who was sentenced this week to 18 to 20 years in state prison for abusing 28 of those victims when they were as young as 11.

MacLeish noted that Porter was charged criminally only because he left the state of Massachusetts and the statute of limitations never expired on many of the crimes with which he was charged.

Despite the attention Porter received, it appears even his conviction was not assured.

Bristol Superior Court Justice Robert L. Steadman observed in sentencing Porter Monday that his guilty plea was crucial.

That plea "waived his rights of appeal concerning my decision on his motion to dismiss" the charges, Steadman said.

"This motion to dismiss was not without merit and his waiver signified his decison to answer for his crimes." There are efforts under way to reduce the legal barriers facing victims in winning civil and criminal sanctions against their abusers.

Currently there is legislation awaiting engrossment in both branches of the Legislature that would extend the time period within which victims can bring civil suits for childhood sexual abuse. Proposals to extend the time period during which criminal action could be brought, or to drop the time-limit entirely in rape cases, died in committee once again this session.

For the past 10 years, Rep. Barbara E. Gray (D-Framingham) has sponsored a measure to give a victim of child sexual abuse until his or her 21st birthday or three years after discovery of the abuse to file a civil suit against the abuser.

"Many abuse cases involve family or other trusted individuals, including clergy, Scout leaders and others, with the result that victims block out all memories of the abuse," Gray said. "That blocking out or amnesia may only be cleared away under therapy, and sometimes not until the victim is 30 or 40."

Gray and others said they expected the civil legislation to reach Gov. Weld and that he will sign it.

Rep. Patricia D. Jehlen (D-Somerville) has advocated another measure that would completely eliminate the statute of limitations in all rape cases, but the bill died in a study committee.

In the next year, Jehlen said, a proposal to extend the statute to 20 years in rape cases will be filed by Sen. Cheryl A. Jacques (D-Needham), chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, along with a separate bill to eliminate the statute of limitations completely for the sexual abuse of children under 16, Jehlen said.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 12/9/1993.
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