James Porter: Trying to Define the Monster inside

By Kevin Diaz
Star Tribune [Taunton MA]
April 11, 2004

TAUNTON, MASS. -- At his sentencing in 1993, serial child molester James Porter told a judge that every time he looked into the mirror, he saw "the monster that I was."

In a hearing that could decide whether the former Minnesota priest ever walks free again, another judge will have to determine whether the monster is still there.

After a week of wrenching testimony from victims, his ex-wife and psychologists, Porter, 69, remains an enigma -- silent, bland and impassive.

The verdict on whether he also remains a danger to society is all the more difficult to render because Porter has declined any meaningful therapy in at least two years. Moreover, none of the psychologists testifying in his hearing so far has interviewed him.

Those who know him best -- his victims, his ex-wife, his new girlfriend -- can't explain what sent him on the twisted three-decade trajectory that touched the lives of more than 100 children in five states.

Porter in courtMike ValeriAssociated PressNor are they sure that he ever came to terms with it.

"What gets me most is that he's still unwilling to admit everything he's done," said one of Porter's alleged victims, now a mother living in New Brighton. "I do believe he's untreatable."

The woman testified at last week's hearing, which will decide whether Porter should stand trial to determine whether he is sexually dangerous. At stake is whether Porter is freed on schedule, after having served a 10-year sentence, or whether he will be committed to a Massachusetts treatment facility indefinitely.

As she recounted how he fondled her when she was a 13-year-old baby sitter, the New Brighton woman saw Porter shake his head from side to side, appearing to deny her account.

'He hasn't changed'

In fact, Porter has never admitted fondling her. A Minneapolis jury found him guilty in 1992, but his conviction was overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct.

"I looked at him, and I saw the same man I saw back then. He hasn't changed," the woman said of her return to the witness stand.

For all of his notoriety, Porter never stood trial again for child molestation -- until now.

Lawsuits against the Catholic Church involving millions of dollars in payouts -- including a case brought by 21 Bemidji-area men -- were settled without trials.

In 1993, Porter pleaded guilty to molesting 28 children in Massachusetts in the 1960s. But even as he talked of seeing monsters, he also claimed he couldn't remember committing the offenses he was accused of, largely because of electroshock therapy he received in the mid-1960s.

In a rare 1993 interview, Porter told a newspaper in Fall River, Mass., that he was pleading guilty only to save his family the ordeal of a long trial.

That, and his steadfast refusal to admit any of the allegations against him since he left the priesthood in 1973, have left many of his victims dissatisfied.

"He's never in his life felt any remorse," said Frank Fitzpatrick, a Massachusetts victim who is credited with tracking Porter down in Oakdale, Minn., and bringing his case to light in 1990. "If he doesn't remember his victims, it's because there were so many of them."

All that is certain now is that Porter is one of the most notorious pedophile priests in the nation.

In a few isolated instances, records given to the court last week showed glimmers of remorse. One was an 18-page letter that Porter wrote to Pope Paul VI in 1973, confessing his indiscretions with children and averring that his "inclinations will always be there."

Another was a 1996 jailhouse letter he wrote to his ex-wife, Verlyne Gray, admitting that he had done "horrendous and despicable things" to children, but never to their own.

Gray, who divorced Porter in 1995, says she now suspects that he abused some of their own four children in Minnesota -- including a son who died of an accidental drug overdose last year. She testified against Porter last week, saying he would still be a danger if he is released.

"He says the psychologists have poisoned my mind," Gray said in an interview. "I may be wrong, but I doubt it."

Gray said that despite Porter's entreaties to her to stick with him, he has never talked about what led him to abuse children, or whether he was abused as a child.

"I'm guessing he was," Gray said. "But he's never acknowledged it."

Intimate relationships

Whether Porter still bears the tug of what he once called his sickness, or whether he can keep it under control, is less a matter of certitude than an educated guess.

Porter's attorney, Michael Farrington, has relied on the huge gap in knowledge about Porter to ask that he be given the benefit of the doubt.

Psychology, he argues, is simply not up to the task of predicting whether a man like Porter will reoffend.

"You and I can make a better prediction than these psychologists with all their mumbo-jumbo," Farrington said. He plans to bring in his own psychologists in the coming week to testify to that effect.

Farrington also argues that Porter is too old to hurt anyone. He presented a study showing that only about 3 percent of sex offenders who reach age 70 commit additional sex crimes.

Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh's response to reporters in the courthouse: "I don't think there's a retirement age for a rapist."

Michael Miner, a professor at the University of Minnesota's Program in Human Sexuality, says that recent recidivism statistics for child molesters coming out of prison are in the 3 percent range overall, about the same figure cited by Porter's lawyer.

When it comes to pedophilia, Miner said in an interview, the issue isn't so much whether the impulse can be completely eradicated as whether it can be controlled.

"It's not something that we can, quote, cure," he said. "The monster is there, and you have to accept that the monster is there. You have to figure out what part in your life the monster plays."

Psychologists' notes

Psychologists who have testified for the district attorney's office have pointed to complicated actuarial tables of factors on which, they say, Porter rates in the highest category of risk.

Massachusetts forensic psychologist John Daignault, the prosecution's main expert, said Porter's treatment records paint a picture of a man with "a significant degree of narcissism, entitlement, selfishness and manipulation."

They also show that Porter washed out of treatment at least twice in prison, as recently as September 2002. He was also cited twice for sexual misconduct.

Among other things Daignault said he noted is Porter's apparent inability to form intimate relationships with adults.

That contention is disputed by Porter's new fiancee, Anne Milner, a 70-year-old ex-nun from Rhode Island. Milner, who knew Porter as a young seminarian in the 1950s, said she looked him up and started visiting him after she heard that he had landed in prison.

"Evidently these psychologists didn't check the records of my more than 500 visits," Milner said in an interview. "He has a current intimate relationship with me, and has since 2001."

Milner says Porter has accepted responsibility for his sexual misconduct and is committed to changing. Porter's victims say he is using Milner, just as he used them.

Among them is the Minnesota baby sitter's older sister, a Minneapolis woman who also testified that Porter fondled her back in the 1980s.

The only reason Porter has not been accused of abusing children since then, the sister said, is that he's been in prison.

"I absolutely think the monster is still there," she said. "The only thing that's different is that he hasn't been exposed to children in a while."