Kirby: This Story Runs Deep
By Mike Kirby
May 13, 2012
The biggest story of my career? That's easy. The 9/11 terrorist attacks altered the nation's history, and the fact three of the roughly 3,000 victims had local ties make it an easy number one.
But the story that resonates just as deeply with me is the Father Porter case.
It was 20 years ago this past week that about a dozen men revealed on WBZ TV how they had been abused by James Porter, a priest at St. Mary's Church in North Attleboro in the early 1960s. One of them, a private investigator named Frank Fitzpatrick, had tracked down Porter in Minnesota, where he had lived and married since being thrown out of the priesthood in the mid-1970s. Fitzpatrick had taped Porter acknowledging that he had molested
several children during his time in North Attleboro.
It was shocking - especially, as it turned out, because I knew some of the victims. These men were a few years older than me, men with whom I had had a drink or meals, played golf, socialized.
And they had kept this secret for 30 years. For days and weeks after, stories came flooding in, how Porter had stalked these children and, it seemed, had daily sexual encounters. It soon became apparent that Porter had abused as many as 100 children during his 18-month stay at St. Mary's.
What was even more disturbing was the apparent coverup by the Roman Catholic Church. Porter was not brought to authorities for his crimes or even kept away from children, simply moved from parish to parish. The church finally placed him in a treatment center for pedophiles, but when that didn't work, he was removed from the priesthood.
It was a difficult story for me.
On one hand, a number of fellow Catholics complained to me that this newspaper, and the media in general, were picking on the church because of one rogue priest. On the other hand, I talked to the people I knew who had been abused by Porter. They told sickening stories of what Porter did to them, how their lives were ruined for years by this predator - and they warned me that Porter was far from alone.
"Michael," one friend told me repeatedly, "you won't believe how deep this goes."
Of course, it would take several more years before that truth emerged. The scandal that engulfed the Archdiocese of Boston - how the church hierarchy protected dozens of abusive priests while doing nothing for the children - made it clear that hushing any accusation of abuse was, essentially, unwritten church policy.
In the end, the numbers in Boston were stunning. The archdiocese admitted that 159 priests had been accused (though victims claimed some clerics were left off the list) and settled 800 abuse claims.
The church has faced up to this problem. And it's wonderful that sex abuse against children is far less covered up than in the past, though, as we've seen from the Penn State scandal, it still happens
In the end, my friend was right. This was a story, a scandal, that truly ran deep.
MIKE KIRBY is editor of The Sun Chronicle. He can be reached at 508-236-0344 or at firstname.lastname@example.org