The Sun Chronicle
October 27, 2019
It started with an ad in this newspaper.
“Do you remember Father Porter?” the ad asked, inviting those who did to a meeting.
Seven people showed up. They not only remembered Father James R. Porter, they were haunted by him.
Porter had been a young priest in the early 1960s at St. Mary’s Church in North Attleboro, He was popular among some children because of his youthful vigor and athletic talents — but others knew a dark secret.
Father Porter was a pedophile.
Among those at the meeting was Frank Fitzpatrick, a private investigator who was tortured by the memories of the sexual abuse he had suffered from Porter.
Using his detective skills, he tracked Porter down in Minnesota and even recorded a vague confession from the former priest over the phone.
Fitzpatrick and other victims went public with their accusations in 1992, setting off a media maelstrom.
Twenty-five years ago this month, Porter pleaded guilty to molesting 28 children and was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. The Diocese of Fall River settled civil lawsuits with scores of other victims.
Many thought Porter was simply a rogue priest and the coverup by the church — Porter was transferred from parish to parish before finally being quietly defrocked — a case of poor judgment.
In reality, it was the tip of the iceberg.
As today’s front-page story by Staff Writer George W. Rhodes explains, studies estimate that more than 4,000 clergy members abused nearly 20,000 people in the United States alone. And coverups, like Porter’s, were not isolated but systemic as church hierarchy chose to protect their institution rather than innocent children.
The scandal has had a seismic impact on Catholicism. Today, only 39 percent of those people who identify themselves as Catholic attended a service in the past seven days; a half century ago, it was nearly twice that number.
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