River Resources – 1992
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Nine allege priest abused them, threaten to sue church
By Alison Bass
Nine men and women who say they were sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest when they were children living in the Fall River-New Bedford area more than 20 years ago have notified the Catholic Church that they intend to sue if it does not compensate them for the damages they suffered and help bring him to justice.
Frank Fitzpatrick, an insurance adjuster and licensed private detective from Cranston, R.I., who alleges he was raped by Rev. James R. Porter, said he has tape recordings of recent telephone conversations in which Porter admitted molesting children when he was a priest in Massachusetts during the 1960s.
In a tape played on WBZ-TV (Ch. 4) news last night, a voice the station identified as Porter's told of molesting between 50 and 100 children.
Porter, who has since left the priesthood and now lives in Oakdale, Minn., was reached at home last night but refused to comment. Fitzpatrick said Porter has never been criminally or civilly prosecuted.
Fitzpatrick, now 42, said he recalls one incident when he was 10 or 11, when Porter, then a priest at St. Mary's School in North Attleborough, took him to a ballgame and then to Porter's parents' house in Revere.
"He gave me some mincemeat pie and it had something in it that knocked me out and then he raped me," Fitzpatrick said yesterday in a telephone interview. "I repressed it entirely until a little over two years ago, when the memories started coming back. But I remember that at first I really admired Father Porter and afterwards I suddenly started disliking him and didn't want to be around him anymore. But I didn't know why at the time."
Fitzpatrick and the others, whom he tracked down through newspaper ads and counseling groups for sex abuse victims, said yesterday that the Fall River diocese, to which Porter was attached in the 1960s, knew that Porter had sexually molested several children while at St. Mary's School, from 1960-1963.
Yet, they said, church officials did not remove Porter from the priesthood and instead transferred Porter first to Fall River for two years and then to St. James Church in New Bedford, where he allegedly molested other children before leaving Massachusetts in 1967.
"There's no question the church covered it up," Fitzpatrick said. "As far as Father Porter, he should be in jail for what he did. I don't believe a word of what he says about being cured."
In a letter to church officials, Roderick MacLeish Jr., the attorney representing the nine who are making the allegations, demanded that the church compensate his clients for their physical and emotional suffering. MacLeish said he wanted to give the church the option of resolving the case out of court.
Fall River diocese officials did not return repeated phone calls yesterday. Rev. Armando Annunciato, a priest at St. Mary's Church in Mansfield, who was in North Attleborough in the early 1960s, said he had heard about the sexual abuse allegations but only "after the fact." He declined to say precisely when he learned of the alleged abuse.
"I was only an associate at the time," Annunciato said in a brief telephone interview yesterday. "I feel very sorry for the people who have suffered. But I don't wish to comment any further."
Officials from the US Catholic Conference say the Catholic Church takes the problem of sexual abuse much more seriously now than it did even five or 10 years ago, when child abuse was viewed by religious leaders and society in general as a "moral failing." Shaken by repeated disclosures of sexual misconduct among its clergy in recent years, the Catholic Church has instituted a set of recommendations for how each diocese should handle such allegations.
"In past decades, child abuse may have been viewed as simply a moral failing for which one should be repentant rather than a psychological addiction for which treatment is mandatory," said Beth Griffin, a spokeswoman for the US Catholic Conference in New York. "Today things are different. The mere hint of such a case is viewed by a bishop with alarm."
MacLeish said he and Fitzpatrick have been trying to get the Bristol district attorney's office to prosecute Porter.
In a written response to Fitzpatrick in June 1991, Gilbert J. Nadeau, first assistant district attorney for Bristol County, said his office would not be able to pursue the matter. Nadeau said "substantial questions exist as to the running of the statute of limitations and to the proper venue for the alleged offense against" Fitzpatrick.
"I trust you can appreciate the difficulty in effectively prosecuting a 30-year-old offense," Nadeau wrote in his letter to Fitzpatrick, responding to a complaint sent by Fitzpatrick in March 1991. "The resources of this office are limited. The caseload of recent offenses . . . is staggering."
Nadeau said yesterday that he received a letter this week from MacLeish asking him to prosecute Porter. Nadeau said he would discuss the matter with MacLeish and that his office had not yet decided whether to reconsider their initial dismissal of Fitzpatrick's complaint.
Several of the complainants in this case said they have suffered enormous emotional and physical damage as the result of the alleged abuse by Porter, whom they and their families respected and trusted.
One of the men, who now lives in New Bedford and asked the Globe to identify him only by his first name, said he has suffered from major depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of being molested by Porter on three separate occasions when he was 12.
"I held it in and did not tell a soul until I was 17," said Joe, now 37, in a telephone interview from his mother's home in New Bedford. "I was very paranoid in school and was depressed every single morning for years. It's been a long journey with psychiatrists to the point where I am now."
Joe said he has been repeatedly hospitalized for depression and panic disorder and is now in a day treatment program for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Joe said Porter once molested him in his own home, after asking his parents if he could go into Joe's bedroom to talk to him.
"Porter always had a line or an excuse for what he was up to," Joe said bitterly. "My concern is that he be stopped before he molests any more children."
Two women, Judy Mullett and Patty Wilson, told a WBZ-TV reporter that they had also been raped by Porter when they were children and had suffered enormously.
Several said they remain angry with the way church officials dealt with the case. Joe and Fitzpatrick said that although several parents had complained to church officials in Fall River in 1963 about what they felt was Porter's sexual behavior with their children, church officials merely transferred Porter to St. James Church in New Bedford.
"I want the church exposed for what they did," Joe said. "He got top- flight care and they discarded us like dishrags. To this day it is still being ignored."
Fitzpatrick said that in 1989, when he was trying to track Porter down and asked for help, Fall River church officials refused to cooperate.
"I asked what Porter's middle initial was and his date of birth and Social Security number and they said, 'Sorry, we don't have any of it,' " Fitzpatrick said. "The monsignor who called me back said maybe it was best to leave it in the hands of the Lord."
Fitzpatrick discovered that in 1967, Porter had been sent to the Jemez Springs Foundation House in New Mexico for psychological treatment. Porter left the priesthood in the early 1970s and is now the father of four children, age 15 to 9 months.
Six more allege priest abused them in '60s
By Dolores Kong
Six more people alleged yesterday that they were sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest in the Fall River Diocese while they were children in the 1960s, bringing the total of accusers to 15.
Nine of the accusers notified officials of the Catholic Church earlier this week that they intended to sue if the church did not pay them damages and aid them in seeking legal action against James R. Porter, who has left the priesthood.
The Bristol district attorney said yesterday he would investigate the allegations against Porter, who served in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford from 1960 through 1967 before leaving the state and quitting the priesthood. But the district attorney's office also raised questions about the statute of limitations.
Stephen Johnson, 43, one of the six who yesterday contacted an attorney involved in the case, said Porter raped him repeatedly when he was an altar boy at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough. One assault occurred on a trip with several other altar boys to a Rhode Island beach house owned by Johnson's parents, he said.
"You're talking to a very angry person, a very sad person, someone whose life has been devastated by this kind of behavior," said Johnson, director of development at a health center in Wakefield, R.I. "I am determined to have the Vatican address this, and I won't stop until they do."
Another of the six, Dennis Gaboury, 40, said he too was an altar boy at the North Attleborough church when Porter sexually abused him for nearly two hours in his locked office.
"I remember being on the floor and he was on top of me," said Gaboury, who recalled only one such incident, when he was 10. "He was breathing on me and rubbing up against me."
Gaboury, administrator for a law firm in Baltimore, said in a telephone interview yesterday, "I'm no longer ashamed. I'm validated now that other people are coming forward."
Porter has declined to speak to the Globe. But in a tape-recorded conversation played on WBZ-TV (Ch. 4) Thursday, a man identified by the station as Porter said he had molested 50 to 100 children.
In a one-paragraph news release yesterday, church officials said: "The Diocese of Fall River regrets the unfortunate manner in which allegations against a former priest have been made public. James Porter has not functioned in the Diocese for over 21 years. It is our policy to respect the privacy of the individuals involved. The purpose of the diocese is pastoral. The community of faithful can trust that this serious matter will be handled with compassion and reverence for all. Since this has become a legal matter, it is not appropriate to comment further."
Calls to church officials were not returned.
At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh said his office will investigate any allegations against Porter by those who come forward.
But Gilbert Nadeau, first assistant district attorney, said in a phone interview, "There are still substantial problems with making out a viable case, given the amount of time that's elapsed since these have been alleged to have occurred."
According to state law in the 1960s, which applies in this case, the statute of limitations would run out six years from the time the crime was committed, unless the perpetrator moved out of state before the six years were up, according to Nadeau. In the latter case, victims may still be able to pursue their cases.
Porter moved in 1967, according to the attorney representing some of the alleged victims, and now lives in Minnesota and is a househusband and father of four children.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., the attorney, has demanded the church compensate his clients for more than $100,000 he estimates they have spent in aggregate on therapy, as well as for emotional damage. He sent a letter this week to the diocese's attorney, asking for a response by early June.
"I just hope the church does the right thing," MacLeish said. "The church needs to acknowledge the extent of their suffering."
According to specialists on sexual abuse of children, victims often repress the memories for years because the trauma is too great, but they may suffer emotionally and psychologically into adulthood. When the abuser is an authority figure such as a priest, a parent or a teacher, the hurt can be even greater, specialists say.
"All of us lost the most important thing that any child has -- their innocence," Gaboury said. "We just want to find that very vulnerable kid again and take back our lives. We want to pick up now and move on."
For Gaboury, the memories did not come back until seven or eight years ago, he said, and he did not tell his family until two years after that.
Johnson said he is most angry at the Catholic Church, saying it covers up for pedophilic priests. He said he tried to kill himself three times and has been in therapy since 1970.
"My intention is to create in fact an international advocacy coalition to force the Vatican to address pedophilia," Johnson said. "It has got to be done. If it saves one child, it has got to be done. I don't care what exposure I get. The pain has been too much not to address this head on."
Johnson said that once when Porter raped him at the church, another priest walked in on them, but "he just shut the door and walked out."
The priest who walked in, Johnson alleged, was Rev. Armando Annunciato of St. Mary's Church in Mansfield, who was in North Attleborough in the early 1960s. Father Annunciato, who said in a brief interview Thursday that he heard about sexual abuse allegations against Porter only "after the fact," did not return a reporter's phone call yesterday.
Johnson said sexual abuse still occurs in the Catholic Church.
For instance, he charges that as recently as 1 1/2 years ago, a priest in Providence who was familiar with his history of being sexually abused tried to rape him. Johnson said he did not want to name the priest.
"I am furious with the church, and how they dare deny this exists," he said.
30 more allege sex abuse in 1960s by priest
By Alison Bass
An additional 30 people came forward yesterday to allege that they were sexually abused by a Roman Catholic priest in the Fall River Diocese while they were children in the 1960s, bringing the total of accusers to 45.
The Bristol County district attorney's office, which is investigating the allegations against the former priest, James R. Porter, will be interviewing 30 of the alleged victims this week, said Roderick MacLeish, a Boston lawyer representing many of the accusers.
MacLeish said yesterday that "judging from the church's initial response, or lack of it," the accusers will probably sue the Catholic Church and Porter, who has left the priesthood and now lives in Minnesota. The church released a single-paragraph statement on the case Friday. Nine of the accusers notified officials of the Catholic Church last week that they intend to sue if the church does not pay them damages and help bring Porter to justice. The alleged victims include both men and women.
John Robitaille, 43, one of those who contacted MacLeish yesterday, alleged that Porter had raped him repeatedly while he was an altar boy at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough. Robitaille said yesterday he had repressed those memories for 30 years; it wasn't until he heard the initial news account about Porter Thursday evening on the radio that "the horror of what happened came back to me."
"I almost drove off the road," said Robitaille, who lives in West Warwick, R.I., and owns a corporate communications company. "I guess it was the validation -- the realization that I wasn't the only who this happened to" that brought back the memories.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse often repress the memories for years because the experience is so traumatic, say many specialists on such abuse. Many victims suffer tremendous emotional angst and even physical symptoms through adulthood, often without realizing why.
"In my case, I became a workaholic and have gone through my life always trying to please everybody and not being able to say no to anybody," said Robitaille, who is divorced and has three daughters. "I wonder what my life would have been like if this hadn't happened to me."
Robitaille alleged that another priest walked in once when Porter was raping him in the basement of St. Mary's rectory. He identified the priest as Rev. Armando Annunciato of St. Mary's Church in Mansfield, who was in North Attleborough in the early '60s.
"He saw me, he looked me in the eye, and he turned around and walked back upstairs," Robitaille recalled. "He turned his back on me and when he did so, it was really symbolic of the whole church's attitude toward victims of this crime."
Father Annunciato could not be reached for comment yesterday. Last Thursday, he said he heard about the sexual abuse allegations against Porter "after the fact."
Steven Johnson, 43, who came forward Friday, also alleged that Father Annunciato walked into a room in the church where he was being assaulted but walked out without taking any action.
Johnson said yesterday that even though these abuses occurred almost 30 years ago, "the town of North Attleborough is in an outrage; they want something done about it and they've been supportive of the people coming forward."
Johnson said the additional people who have come forward were molested by Porter while he was at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough and then after he was transferred to St. James' Church in New Bedford.
Porter, who is now married and has four children, has declined to speak to the Globe. However, in a tape-recorded conversation played on WBZ-TV (Ch. 4) Thursday, a man identified by the station as Porter said he had molested 50 to 100 children.
Church officials Friday released a one-paragraph statement saying that Porter has not been in the Fall River Diocese for more than 21 years. The release said, "The community of faithful can trust that this serious matter will be handled with compassion and reverence for all. Since this has become a legal matter, it is not appropriate to comment further."
Calls to church officials were not returned yesterday.
Diocese allegedly was told of abuse
By Linda Matchan
A former North Attleborough resident and town official says that in 1963 he twice reported the alleged molestation of his nephew by Rev. James Porter to the late Humberto Medeiros, then chancellor of the Fall River diocese.
Henry Viens said in an interview yesterday that Monsignor Medeiros assured him at the time that the matter would be "taken care of immediately" and Father Porter removed from St. Mary's Church and sent for "rehabilitation."
But despite the assurances of the chancellor, who seven years later became bishop of the Boston archdiocese, Porter was transferred to Sacred Heart Church in Fall River, where he was allowed to supervise altar boys and other children, and was transferred again in 1965 to St. James Church in New Bedford, where he remained until 1967, when he left the priesthood.
In the last few weeks dozens of men and women have come forward to say that Porter sexually molested them as children in all three parishes, during the 1960s. Many of them are now pushing for a criminal investigation of Porter, who now lives in Minnesota with his wife and four children.
The Bristol district attorney's office is looking into the allegations.
"I am so upset that the diocese did not do anything about it when I approached them. They just didn't carry it through," said Viens, a businessman who for 15 years served on the Board of Assessors in North Attleborough, where he also was a sewer commissioner.
Viens, who now lives in Fairhaven, said he discovered only three weeks ago that his daughter also was allegedly molested by Porter, fueling his decision to come forward.
"I was thinking at the time that I had done the greatest thing in my life by telling Medeiros and then I find out it all went down the drain," Viens said yesterday, his voice breaking.
Monsignor Medeiros was elevated to cardinal in 1973. Prior to returning to Boston, he served four years as bishop of Brownsville, Texas. He died in 1983 and was succeeded by Cardinal Bernard Law.
Yesterday, John Walsh, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said the archdiocese could not "really comment on the appropriateness of what action was or was not taken in another diocese by the man on the spot at the time, who was . . . then Monsignor Medeiros.
"Other than that . . . I will reiterate statements Cardinal Law has made that we share the grief of individuals at the horrible nature of the stories and allegations that have come forward and all we can do in this instance is continue to listen respectfully as individuals come forward to tell their stories."
There is currently no presiding bishop in the Fall River diocese, and Cardinal Law, as archbishop, plays a limited advisory role.
Recently, Viens said, he learned that his brother-in-law also complained about Porter to a parish priest.
According to attorney Eric MacLeish of the Boston law firm Eckert, Seamans, who is representing 38 of Porter's accusers, the Viens' family story shows that "not just the parish was involved but people very high up in the church."
Indeed, he said it is clear that church authorities were aware of the alleged molestations even before Viens went to Monsignor Medeiros.
In July 1963, Viens said his sister, Claire Calderone, told him that her son Peter, who was then an altar boy 10 or 11 years old, had been molested by Porter. Viens said his sister, now deceased, pleaded with him to tell church authorities because Viens was very involved with the parish and knew Rev. Ed Booth, the pastor of the parish.
He said he went immediately to St. Mary's Church and told Father Booth, also now deceased, about the alleged molestation, informing him that he intended to report it to Bishop James Connolly of the Fall River diocese. He said Father Booth, whom he described as "a man that never showed too much emotion," appeared surprised. Father Booth telephoned the chancery and made arrangements to see Monsignor Medeiros that day, saying the bishop was out of town.
According to Viens, the two then drove to the chancery and Viens minced no words about his concerns. "I told him my sister said if he's not out of North Attleborough by tonight, she would be going to the newspapers tomorrow. I said, 'Do you know what will happen in this little town? This man should not be involved with children.' "
Viens said Monsignor Medeiros listened carefully to what he was saying and promised to talk to the bishop about it. Viens said the chancellor also told Booth he wanted Porter to leave the church "bag and baggage -- those were his words. He said, 'Does that satisfy you? We'll do the best we can.' To me, he sounded very sincere," said Viens. "He told me they would send him to rehabilitation on the other side of Boston."
He said Porter did in fact leave the church immediately, though he and other parishioners were not formally informed by the church where he went or of the fact that he left under questionable circumstances.
Nor was the town evidently aware of it: On July 11, the North Attleboro Evening Chronicle reported in a front-page story that Porter was transferred to Fall River's Sacred Heart Church, and noted that "he has been a fine assistant at the local church ever since he came here three years ago. He was beloved by the youngsters and highly regarded by all adults with whom he came in contact."
Viens, however, did not become aware that Porter had moved to Fall River until six weeks after his meeting with Monsignor Medeiros, when he heard the news by chance from a cousin in Fall River. He said he was enraged to discover that Porter was still in the diocese, and went immediately back to Monsignor Medeiros.
"I looked at him and said, 'Monsignor, I am so disappointed in you. Do you know what you people have done? You've sent him to a bigger parish to let him abuse other children.'
"He said, "I didn't know where he was.' " Viens asked him why he was transferred and he said Monsignor Medeiros replied, "I can't answer you."
"I could not believe this, I was so devastated," Viens said. "He said to me, 'I'll put him away.' I said, 'I heard this two months ago.' I could not believe he lied to me like this."
Nevertheless, Viens said he still accepted the chancellor's assurance that he would "take care" of the matter, and when he "didn't hear any more of it," assumed that Monsignor Medeiros had.
A year ago, he happened to meet the mother of another alleged victim of Porter who told him that there were other molestations and that Porter had remained in the diocese until 1967.
Three weeks ago his own daughter, Patricia Kozak, now 44, told him that she, too, had been molested by Porter when she was 11 or 12, at least three times in the church rectory. Kozak said in an interview that she repressed the experience until a year ago, and now recalls that Porter warned her at the time that "God is watching me now."
"If I had only known my daughter was involved I would have gone after that man," Viens said in tears. "My children lived with this for 30 years. I am a hard man, but I get to weeping at times. Now, I have to live it all over again."
He said he also learned recently that his brother-in-law, Paul Calderone, had also tried unsuccessfully to have church authorities remove Porter, after his son Peter told him that the priest had molested him several times.
Calderone said in an interview yesterday that he spoke to Rev. Armando Annunciato, a curate at St. Mary's, and demanded that he or the church do something about it immediately.
"He said, I don't remember the exact words, but something to the effect of 'Father Porter is human, too.' I told him in no uncertain terms that he used the wrong word -- he should have said 'inhuman.' "
More than five women and men, including Peter Calderone, have said that Father Annunciato interrupted Porter during alleged molestations, by either walking in or knocking on the door and asking him what he was doing.
Connie Lyons, the father of one alleged victim, said he told Father Annunciato about it even before Viens reported it to church authorities. He said the curate told him he couldn't do anything about it, and referred him to Father Booth, who in turn referred him to Bishop Connolly.
Lyons, a North Attleborough chemist, said he was "kind of stunned" by the officials' lack of interest, so he decided to confront Porter directly.
"I told him he had a big problem with the altar boys, and I told him that had two choices -- he could go to the bishop, or I would. " He said Porter acknowledged to him that he had a problem, and Lyons then told Porter that he needed psychiatric help. Taking matters into his own hands, Lyons arranged an appointment for Porter with a Boston psychiatrist, and in the weeks that followed, personally drove him to two appointments. A few weeks later, Porter left St. Mary's Church.
Lyons said he saw the priest only once more, two years later at a bishop's ball.
"He greeted me -- he was in clerical garb -- and said, 'Hi,' and I asked him how he was doing. He said, 'Great,' " Lyons recalled. " 'I feel great. Everything's fine.' "
Anguised cries fell on deaf ears
By Linda Matchan, Don Aucoin, and Stephen Kurkjian
In an otherwise ordinary spring day in 1963, a young mother in North Attleborough was suddenly confronted with every parent's nightmare.
Her son, a 12-year-old altar boy, had just confided that he had been sexually molested. Even more shocking was the identity of the alleged molester: Rev. James R. Porter, the young and dynamic priest at St. Mary's Church and Grammar School.
Enraged, the mother hastened to the parish rectory to alert Porter's superior, Rev. Edward Booth, and fellow priest, Rev. Armando Annunziato, and to plead for help. "I said he was molesting little boys," she recalls, "and I said 'I want him out of here, quick. There is no way I am going to receive communion from that man's dirty hands.' "
But the woman said in an interview with the Globe that her entreaties were rebuffed by the two priests. She said Father Booth informed her that Father Porter was receiving "treatment" for his problem, and there would be no need to remove him from the church. She said Father Booth demanded: "What are you trying to do, crucify the man?" Four years later, church officials sent Porter to a New Mexico treatment center for priests with substance abuse addictions.
She turned to other parish parents, telling them of her discovery in frantic phone calls. But she found no one -- not even her husband -- would believe her.
The anguished, unheeded calls for help by the North Attleborough mother were not the only reports that church officials and parents received about Porter during his seven-year tenure as a priest in three parishes in the Fall River diocese. Church officials have said that at various times they witnessed Porter's assaults or were told of them by children or parents, yet they still allowed him easy access to children as a supervisor of altar boys and through involvement in church-sponsored youth activities, according to Globe interviews and accounts given to private investigators.
Nor did church authorities or parents relay the reports of alleged abuse to police: Police chiefs in the three communities where Porter worked say they have no record of complaints about the priest.
On the contrary, members of North Attleborough's Catholic community apparently idolized the strapping young priest who engaged their children in church sports, took them on outings and visited their houses. Newspaper records from the period indicate that Father Porter received honors from the town for community activity, even as he was allegedly engaged in an assault on parish children.
Globe interviews with alleged victims of Porter, their families, town residents and a former high-ranking official in the diocese suggest that even though church officials were aware of the allegations, their only formal responses were moving him from parish to parish and arranging for Porter to receive therapy, which apparently included shock treatments, long after many children had allegedly been molested.
Less formally, Porter's fellow priests reportedly were forced to resort to awkward stratagems to try to thwart Porter, such as knocking on the door when Porter closeted himself with youngsters, and spying on him at the beach where he allegedly searched for new victims.
Nearly three decades later, it is difficult to understand why an entire community left its children in harm's way even as reports of molestation were so prevalent. Porter himself, who now lives in Oakdale, Minn. and has a family, has expressed astonishment that he wasn't questioned earlier by authorities.
"I'm surprised nobody spotted it," Porter said in a tape-recorded conversation with Frank Fitzpatrick, a Rhode Island private detective who says he was molested as a youth by Porter. "When it finally came out, naturally I was hiding behind the cloth."
How he continued for so long is all the more remarkable considering how brazen Porter is said to have been. Victims said in interviews with the Globe that Porter, evidently titillated by the risk of discovery, sexually molested boys and girls in their own homes, on the beach, in the churchyard, and even on the church altar. One male victim recalled being molested beneath an outdoor statue of the Virgin Mary. A woman told of being fondled by Porter inside the confessional booth.
Officials of the Fall River diocese refused to discuss the controversy with the Globe, citing possible legal action. An attorney for the diocese did not return telephone calls.
One of the priests who served with Porter, who asked not to be identified, denied that he was ever told of sexual abuse by Porter. "No one, child or parent, ever spoke to me, I can tell you that," the priest said yesterday.
An explanation for the church's inaction seems to lie in a web of religious and social factors rooted in the absence of a firm policy for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse among priests, the social taboo 30 years ago against addressing sexual perversion or even discussing sexual activity in the home, and the church's near-immunity from criticism in the communities where Porter worked.
"The priest was God," said the North Attleborough mother who asked not to be named to protect the identity of her son. She has since moved out of state. "I felt I was fighting the whole town."
Thirty years later, the allegations retain a particular resonance in Massachusetts, with the Catholic Church in turmoil over the guilty plea last week by a Shelburne Falls priest to charges of touching youths, and the indictment of a Hingham priest on charges he raped an altar boy 10 years ago.
The Bristol district attorney's office is investigating the allegations against Porter to determine whether the case warrants a grand jury review.
A case study
Today, as more such cases come to light in Massachusetts and elsewhere, the Porter case is seen by many as a cautionary case study. It exemplifies the ease with which an entire diocese can be paralyzed into a conspiracy of silence and the emotional devastation that can result from that paralysis.
So far, 62 men and women have identified themselves as victims of Father Porter, and there could be as many as 100, according to the attorney representing several of them, Roderick MacLeish Jr. Many of Porter's accusers have struggled through adulthood with emotional problems, suicide attempts, failed relationships and battles with substance abuse they attribute to their alleged encounters with the young priest.
The steps taken by church authorities reflect a well-intentioned if ineffective effort to wrestle with the problem that Porter allegedly presented them. They transferred him to Fall River in 1963, after three years in North Attleborough, apparently hoping that a stronger-willed pastor would be able to monitor him.
When the reports of abuse continued, he was transferred to St. James parish in New Bedford, where priests were reportedly instructed to keep him away from children because they said he had a "problem with boys." He was assigned to St. Luke's Hospital.
But when Porter was found to be cruising New Bedford beaches and Little League games purportedly for his young victims, he was finally ordered to seek treatment at a rehabilitation center the church maintained for alcoholics and drug abusers in New Mexico.
Although Porter was treated for two years at the center, his rehabilitation was apparently not sufficient for the church. In 1969, over his objections, Porter said the church expelled him from the priesthood, an extraordinary action at the time.
New church policy
However, those steps came only after repeated parents' warnings and direct reports by church personnel that Porter was molesting youths.
Today, his accusers express frustration and anger that the church has only belatedly begun to formulate policies to deal with sexual offenders. It was not until 1988 that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse charges in the priesthood, which includes the immediate placement on administrative leave of any priest accused of sexual misconduct, an offer of psychological counseling for the accusers and their families, and cooperation with legal authorities investigating the allegations. None of these stipulations were in place three decades ago, but the accusers wonder why common sense did not prevail.
"Why did they allow it to happen again and again and again?" demands John Robitaille, who alleges Father Porter molested him in North Attleborough. "Why did they send him from parish to parish so he would have a fresh crop of young boys and girls to victimize?"
"All these victims in Fall River and New Bedford -- they never should have happened. It was known . . . They were just kind of hoping he would stop it, with no basis for it," lamented Peter Calderone, who said Father Porter molested him numerous times.
In retrospect, the inaction is striking in light of how often and how pointedly church authorities were made aware of the possibility of molestation.
"I look back now and think how fortunate I am that I didn't get creamed . . . by a parent, by the law," Porter said in a tape-recorded conversation when Fitzpatrick confronted him in 1990.
Responded Fitzpatrick: "The thing that bothered me was that it was covered up in North Attleborough so much." Said Porter: "I think that was always the problem. They did that in a lot of places."
Examples abound of incidents in which the alleged abuse was cited:
Within weeks of Porter's arrival at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough in April 1960, the priest took young Paul Merry into the rectory office and allegedly began molesting him. Suddenly, Rev. Edward Booth, Porter's superior and the pastor there, who has since died, walked in. "Father Porter jumped right up," Merry said. "First Father Booth looked at Father Porter, and then back at me, and then at Father Porter, who was zipping up his fly. Then Father Booth shook his head and walked out the door. He didn't say a word."
As Porter was allegedly molesting 11-year-old Peter Calderone in the rectory office of St. Mary's, Father Armando Annunziato knocked on the door and entered, pointedly telling Porter as the priest hastily zipped up his fly, " 'It's getting late. It's time for everyone to go home.' " Calderone is one of at least 10 complainants who say they recall Annunziato interrupting molestations by knocking on doors and entering rooms where Porter was ensconced with youngsters, according to MacLeish, who is representing them.
Father Annunziato could not be reached for comment. Family members say he is recovering from illness.
Cheryl Swenson Kerte said she was molested by Porter in 1961 as an 11- year-old while attending confession at St. Mary's. She was confessing the fact that when she was 5, she had been sexually molested by a teen-age boy in her neighborhood, when Porter told her to come out and sit on his lap. He allegedly began fondling her body and fumbling with her underwear, and she ran away. But a few months later, when she entered the church unannounced during a school recess, she witnessed Porter standing on the altar with his pants undone and noticed two boys near him.
Terrified, she ran to the rectory, and told Father Annunziato that there was a stranger in the church, afraid to mention the intimidating Porter by name or what she thought he might have been doing. Annunziato yelled at her to " 'stop stirring up trouble' " and slammed the door in her face. Later, Porter entered her classroom. "He came to tell the class that what I'd seen was not true, that I was lying, and I'd better tell the whole class it wasn't true," Kerte said.
A St. Mary's seventh-grade student studying to be an altar boy who had been molested by Porter told private investigators that he struck Porter in anger in school when the priest attempted to molest him a second time. Sent to Annunziato, the boy said that Porter had sexually abused him. Annunziato replied that the student was possessed by Satan, the accuser has told the private investigators.
By the time he got to New Bedford in 1966, Porter was making little attempt to conceal his activities from other priests, according to one accuser, who told investigators that other priests "would just turn away when Porter would pull us to him and fondle us."
Nor were the children's homes off-limits to Porter's alleged predations. One accuser in New Bedford told investigators that his father discovered Porter molesting him in the boy's bedroom, threw the priest out of the house, and went to the rectory of St. James Church to tell the other four parish priests: the pastor, Msgr. Hugh Gallagher; Rev. Edward Duffy and Rev. Thomas O'Dea; Rev. Albert Shovelton.
Unbeknownst to the father, his wife had previously complained to Monsignor Gallagher about Porter's sexual abuse of their son, but the pastor had not taken any action, the alleged victim said.
Gallagher is dead. Father Duffy and Father O'Dea refused to discuss the details of the case citing possible legal action; Father Shovelton could not be reached.
In defending how the church handled allegations against Porter, Reginald Barrette, a former priest who served as an aide to Bishop James Connolly of the Fall River Diocese during Porter's tenure there, said there was no mechanism for dealing with sexually deviant priests.
While Barrette said he has no specific memory of the Porter case, he said: "It was handled the best the bishop could handle it in those days. People are saying the church did not exercise proper care of this man . . . We were supposed to lock this fellow up in the chancery? What were we supposed to do with him?"
According to Barrette, victims should not point the finger at the church: "I blame the parents of these people who did not report it," he said.
Police Chief John D. Coyle of North Attleborough, who walked a patrol beat opposite St. Mary's School from 1954 to 1964, speculated that no parent ever reported Porter to police because "they were probably awed by the Catholic Church and the clergy. They probably thought they were doing the right thing by going to the church hierarchy rather than go to the police and have a big disgrace."
A moral failing
Specialists say the church subscribed to the prevailing belief that child sexual abuse was a moral failing best controlled by discipline, rather than a psychological addiction requiring intensive treatment and isolation from children.
Church officials evidently relied on "the geographical cure: relocate, forget, sweep under the rug," said Dayl Hufford, clinical pastoral psychotherapist at Andover Newton Theological School. "Back then we didn't have the clinical knowledge, we didn't have the road map for dealing with this kind of thing."
Rev. Stephen Rossetti of St. Lawrence Church in Chestnut Hill, the author of "Slayer of the Soul: Child Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church," maintains the church now has a better understanding of the problem, but is still locked into a "reactive policy."
"The whole church is wounded by this," Father Rossetti said. "When Catholics see this . . . their faith and confidence in the priesthood is wounded."
Bishop to aid Porter accusers
By Stephen Kurkjian
Following 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
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