Order Denies Fault in Priest's Sex Abuse Case ... Minnesota, New Mexico Suits; Target Group

By Kathryn Rogers
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 30, 1992

A treatment center for priests in the bucolic setting of the former Griesedieck estate in Sunset Hills has been drawn into a controversy generated by lawsuits elsewhere over sexual abuse by a former priest. James Porter, the former priest, reportedly has said he spent several months at St. Michael's Center in 1971, about three years before he left the priesthood. Porter has admitted sexually abusing a number of children while serving as a priest in other states in the 1960s. Officials at St. Michael's Center, at 13270 Maple Drive, have refused to talk to reporters, and spokesmen for the Servants of the Paraclete - the religious order that runs the center - will not say whether Porter was ever housed at the facility. Bishop Edward J. O'Donnell, a spokesman for the St. Louis Archdiocese, has said he does not know if Porter ever stayed at St. Michael's or ever worked in parishes in the St. Louis area. The Servants of the Paraclete and Porter have been named as defendants in lawsuits filed in Minnesota and New Mexico over the sexual abuse. The suits, which have made headlines across the nation, allege that Porter was treated for pedophilia from 1967 to 1969 at a facility run by the Servants order in Jemez, N.M. Pedophilia is a sexual attraction by an adult to pre-pubescent children. The suits say that the Servants of the Paraclete released Porter to work from time to time in parishes in New Mexico and that he molested children while working in those parishes. A plaintiff's attorney in the New Mexico suits said Thursday that releasing priests with pedophilia to parishes was a pattern at the Jemez facility in the 1970s and 1980s. The suits also say that a Minnesota diocese accepted Porter as a priest in 1969 based on a recommendation from a facility run by the Servants congregation. Porter subsequently molested children at a parish in the diocese, the suits say. None of the lawsuits names St. Michael's. In an interview in St. Louis recently, the head of the Servants of the Paraclete called for the "slander and vilification" of the order's mi nistry to end. The Very Rev. Liam J. Hoare of Jemez, superior general of the order, refused to talk about Porter or any other client, citing the order's policy on confidentiality. He did say that none of the order's facilities treated clients for pedophilia in the 1960s - the time when Porter is said to have gotten treatment in New Mexico. In fact, Hoare said, St. Michael's and the order's other four centers offered no professional treatment for any disorder until 1977 - six years after Porter reportedly told a Boston television reporter that he had undergone treatment at St. Michael's. Hoare, 53, was superior at St. Michael's from 1975 to 1981. The center treats priests and brothers with addictive disorders such as alcoholism, chemical dependency, compulsive overeating, gambling, spending and sexual addiction. Pedophilia is not among the sexual addictions treated there, Hoare said. Hoare, who visited St. Michael's last weekend, said he had agreed to be interviewed "to debunk and correct the erroneous information about the nature of some of (our) ministry . . . and to convey that the Catholic church does act pastorally and professionally to address the psychological and spiritual issues among its wounded ministers." Porter's story begins in 1967 when the priest was sent to the New Mexico center by the Fall River, Mass., diocese, which had received complaints that Porter had sexually abused children there. The plaintiffs' attorney, Eric MacLeish of Boston, said documents in the suit filed in Massachusetts showed that the diocese had moved Porter from parish to parish until "ultimately, the heat was so much, they transferred him to Jemez." Lawsuits filed in New Mexico say that while Porter was staying at the facility in Jemez, he was used in local parishes and sexually abused children in those parishes. The attorney who filed the suits there, Bruce Pasternack of Albuquerque, said documents showed that the Servants had allowed pedophile priests in Jemez to be released to parishes in the 1970s and 1980s. And lawsuits in Minnesota say Porter was accepted as a priest in 1969 in the Crookston, Minn., diocese based on the recommendation of a halfway house run by the Paraclete in Nevis, Minn. The suits say that Porter sexually abused children while he was a priest in Bemidji, Minn. Hoare said that in the 1960s, Jemez was a retreat for priests and brothers. He said the Servants congregation "relied mainly on spiritual means to assist those who came." He said priests would be driven to Albuquerque for meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. The center would not have known if priests visited a psychiatrist outside the center about a problem such as pedophilia. "What transpired between a man who went for psychiatric help, that stayed between him and the psychiatrist," Hoare said. As a matter of policy, the Servants congregation would not recommend that a pedophile be placed in a parish or in a vocation involving children, Hoare said. "We would recommend vocational retraining and departure from active ministry in the Catholic priesthood and all religious life." Hoare joined the order 29 years ago and has headed it for five years. He came to the United States from Dublin, Ireland, in 1974 and became an addictions counselor before going to St. Michael's in 1975. Acknowledging that the Porter accusations predate him, he asked, "But doesn't it make sense that we would not release someone if we knew he was not capable of functioning as a priest in good standing?" Hoare said that St. Michael's has never treated pedophilia and that since 1977, any priest or brother with the illness was sent to Jemez. He said that about 5 percent of the order's clients are pedophiles. The order's five centers treat about 100 people at any given time, he said. The Servants bought the Griesedieck estate about 30 years ago for a residence and study center for the order, Hoare said. The center, housed in what was the residence of the Griesediecks, at one time a prominent brewing family, is surrounded by woods and wildlife. Members of the order live at the remodeled stone carriage house. Several "keep out" signs posted at the entrance of the milelong drive to the center property ward off the curious. Hoare said last week that St. Michael's was treating 26 men and had several others on a waiting list who were staying at a Servants' retreat house in Dittmer, Mo. Earlier this month, a priest who was treated at St. Michael's - apparently for alcoholism and stress - and was evaluated for pedophilia was sentenced to four years in prison for the sexual abuse of an 11-year-old altar boy in a House Springs parish in 1990. The priest, the Rev. Donald H. Heck, had gone to St. Michael's in October 1990 after an allegation of sexual abuse was made to the archdiocese. That particular allegation was never prosecuted. Hoare would not discuss Heck, but he said all priests and brothers were given a thorough battery of psychological tests and in-depth interviews upon their adm ission to St. Michael's. Hoare said the tests were sophisticated enough to detect pedophilia. According to the archdiocese, Heck's evaluation did not indicate any problem, so he was reassigned to another parish. Hoare said that the order's work with priests benefited St. Louis. "The priests come broken, bruised and hurting," he said. "We try to restore them to their dignity as human beings and as servants of God. We are the M*A*S*H unit of the Catholic church. We get the casualties." Wire services contributed information for this story.


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