Ex-Priest's Death Fails to Close Victims' Wounds

By Larry Oakes
Star Tribune [Minnesota]
February 15, 2005

Minnesotans scarred by former priest James Porter's sexual abuse said Monday that his death gives them little consolation.

One of his victims, his ex-wife and an attorney who went after him say they're relieved no child will ever again be victimized by Porter, the convicted pedophile who died in a Boston hospital Friday.

But they add that Porter's death at age 70 does nothing to erase the pain he inflicted on as many as 100 children; nor does it lessen the anger they feel toward the Catholic Church for transferring Porter each time he was accused instead of defrocking and prosecuting him.

"You're never going to close a chapter like that," said Dan Dow, 47. He is still troubled by memories of being repeatedly abused by Porter when Dow was a 12-year-old altar boy at St. Philip's Catholic Church in Bemidji.

"You deal with the effects the rest of your life," Dow said. "But it's nice to know he'll never be able to abuse anyone else."

After Dow told his parents what was happening to him and other boys, the church removed Porter from the parish in 1970, as it had four times before in the wake of similar allegations at other parishes. The church twice ordered him to undergo treatment, but still allowed him access to children.

Porter finally left the priesthood in 1973 after admitting to the Vatican that he assaulted children in eight Catholic parishes in five states since he was ordained in 1960.

In Massachusetts, he was convicted in 1993 of molesting 28 children during the 1960s while a priest at the Diocese of Fall River.

"I feel deep sadness for the long trail of broken spirits and wounded souls he left in his wake," said Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney who sued on behalf of more than three dozen of Porter's victims.

Anderson, who has pursued more than 1,200 Catholic clergy in lawsuits over the past 22 years, said he'd place Porter among "the top 10 most dangerous" -- mainly because the church gave him so many chances to continue his crimes.

In 1992, Porter was convicted of molesting a teenage baby sitter, although the conviction was overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court because of comments made by the prosecutor. It was decided not to seek a new trial, in part because he by then was in a Massachusetts prison.

The last injustice inflicted by Porter was that he took his apologies to his grave, said Verlyne Gray of Oakdale, who divorced him in 1995. She said it took her until then to fully realize she was married to a sexual predator. She now believes he sexually abused at least one of their four children, Sean, who died in 2003 of an accidental methadone overdose in a drug rehabilitation halfway house.

Their daughter Colleen Anderson said her father's death robbed her of the chance to have a day of reckoning with him. She believes he may have sexually abused her, though she has no specific memory of it.

She said citations he received for sexual misconduct in prison helped convince her that he remained a threat. A Massachusetts court hearing at which she'd planned to face him and testify in support of blocking his release was postponed when he got cancer.

"I'm never going to be able to stand up to him and say, 'Hey, you hurt me and a lot of other people,' and not have him argue back at me and minimize it," said Anderson, 28, of Cottage Grove.

Gray did get to testify, and she said it was clear to her that Porter hadn't changed. "He sat there, shaking his head when I was talking about him in court," she said. "That's pretty much the way he'd always been, denying he did anything wrong. ...

"He was a sick man. But church officials were sick in their own way too. It was in their power to stop Jim, and they didn't do it."


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