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Porter's treatment questioned

Priest was allowed to help at parishes

By Linda Matchan and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 7/16/1992

 James Porter: A timeline
The key dates in the life of James R. Porter, the former Catholic priest from the Boston area who is accused of abusing more than 60 children.
1952: Graduates from Boston College High School
1956: Earns bachelor's degree in mathematics from Boston College.
1960: Ordained as priest after graduating from Baltimore seminary and assigned to St. Mary's Church, North Attleboro.
1963: After complaints from parents, is assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Fall River.
1965: Following further complaints, is assigned to St. James Parish in New Bedford.
1967: Left New Bedford and enters a church-run treatment program operated by the Order of the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.
1969: Assigned to St. Philip's Catholic Church in Bemidji, Minn., after receiving treatment in a church halfway house in Nevis, Minn.
1970: Dismissed from St. Philip's after new allegation of sexual abuse and moves to nearby small town in Minnesota, begins work as a bank teller and receives private therapy.
1971: Enters Paraclete treatment center in St. Louis and decides to leave the priesthood.
1971: Moves to Maplewood, Minn., and works in nearby bank.
1974: Is officially terminated as a priest.
1976: Marries Verlyne Kay Bartlett, 23, in St. Paul; first of four children is born; quits bank job and becomes a "house husband."
1982-1991: Tutors math at the Transfiguration Catholic School, Maplewood.
1990: Frank Fitzpatrick, a Rhode Island private investigator who had been an altar boy under Porter, confronts the former priest on the telephone about alleged sexual abuse; Fitzpatrick takes out advertisments in New England newspapers seeking other alleged victims of Porter's abuse.
May 8, 1992: WBZ-TV of Boston reports Porter's alleged history of sexually abusing children. In a taped interview, Porter tells the TV station of abusing 50 to 100 children. In the weeks to come, more than 60 alleged victims give accounts of abuse to Boston news media or law enforcement officials.
May 22: Authorities from Boston and Oakdale, Minn., interview Porter for more than two hours, but no charges are filed. Oakdale police say two women reported being abused by Porter 10 or more years earlier in Oakdale. A man surfaces later, telling Oakdale police a similar story of abuse by Porter.
June 7: A notice in St. Philip's Parish bulletin urges anyone who was a victim of Porter's alleged abuse in Bemidji to come forward.
July 11: St. Philip's issues another announcement, this time in a press release, urging alleged victims to come forward.
July 14: As seven alleged victims file suit against him in Minnesota, Porter releases statement contending he has not sexually abused children since he left the priesthood in 1974.
Source: Interview, news media reports

In 1992, the Rev. James R. Porter case in Fall River brought the problem of clergy abuse into the open.  
Coverage of the Porter case

LBUQUERQUE -- A New Mexico center that treated James R. Porter and other Catholic priests for the sexual abuse of children routinely allowed him to be assigned to handle part-time assignments at nearby parishes, according to lawyers involved in the case.

As six more persons from northern Minnesota told lawyers that they were molested by Porter in their small parish where Porter was assigned in 1969 after being judged "cured" by the rehabilitation center, an attorney representing seven alleged victims in Minnesota said that Porter served as a priest in churches close to the facility in New Mexico as well as near a halfway house in St. Louis.

Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul said yesterday that one of Porter's lawyers informed him Tuesday that Porter had worked on an ad hoc basis in several churches while being treated at the center operated by the Servants of the Paraclete, a Catholic order, between 1967 and 1969.

"They have confirmed that Porter was working at several churches in a part-time, unofficial capacity while being treated at the Paraclete between 1967 and 1969," Anderson said. He declined to identify the lawyer. Bruce Jones, Porter's Minneapolis-based lawyer, declined to comment.

Bruce Pasternack, an Albuquerque lawyer who has represented child abuse victims, said he had been told by a source, whom he would only identify as "very reliable," that Porter served on a part-time basis at churches "throughout New Mexico" during his two years there.

However, Rev. Richard J. Olona, chancellor of the Santa Fe Archdiocese, said church officials had been unable to locate any official records to show that Porter had served in any parishes while at the treatment center. Olona said the diocese could find no record that Porter was granted permission, officially known as "faculties," to perform the major priestly functions.

"I checked all our records and found none that Porter ever asked the archbishop of Santa Fe for those faculties," Olona said. However, he did acknowledge that Porter could have worked at churches in the diocese without faculties, on such assignments as counseling.

"It doesn't mean that Porter might not have gone to a church on his own," Olona said. "He could have."

A former priest at St. Edwin's Parish in Albuquerque, near a Paraclete halfway house where Porter resided at times, has told a local paper that he often would call on priests being treated at the facility to perform nonofficial functions, such as counseling, at the church. Similarly, a top official in the St. Louis Diocese yesterday acknowledged that while he was the parish priest at St. Peter's Church in Kirkwood, Mo., that he would often use priests being treated at another halfway house operated by the Paraclete's treatment.

Bishop Edward J. O'Donnell, vicar general in St. Louis, said he was surprised to learn that some of those residing at the halfway house, like Porter, were being treated for sexual abuse problems. "My understanding is that they were all recovering alcoholics," O'Donnell said. "If I had known that, I might have taken a different attitude towards bringing them in."

Porter's treatment at the Paraclete center, and more generally the operation of the facility, is drawing increased attention from church authorities, defense lawyers and regulatory officials as the sordid tales of Porter's activities intensify.

Earlier this week, officials at the Crookston Diocese in northern Minnesota criticized the Paraclete facility for contending in August 1969 that Porter was "cured" of his unspecified problems -- an assurance that led the diocese to accept him as an associate pastor in Bemidji.

Thirteen months later, Porter was expelled from the church and the diocese after the parents of two youths complained that Porter had sexually abused their children. Porter had been sent to the Paraclete facility in New Mexico in 1967 by the Fall River Diocese after complaints from parents in three parishes in Bristol County that he had molested their children.

In a statement Tuesday, Porter acknowledged that he had sexually abused children. But beyond saying that he had not molested any youths since leaving the priesthood, he did not say where he had served as a priest between 1967 and 1974, when he left the priesthood.

The Fall River Diocese, which under church rules had ultimate control of where Porter was transferred, refused yesterday to provide any details of his church years.

The Servants of Paraclete, a Catholic order with the sole mission of helping priests, has operated a treatment center in Jemez Springs, approximately 150 miles north of Albuquerque, for 45 years. Until the mid- 1970s, the Paraclete's center was primarily geared toward treating priests with problems such as alcoholism and other addictions, as well as burnout. However, since it was one of the few facilities that dealt with psychological problems, priests with sexual disorders were also sent there.

The Paraclete center refused to return phone calls yesterday concerning its operations in general and its treatment of Porter. Anderson said he has been told by Porter's lawyer that he was assigned to its therapy center and halfway house in New Mexico between 1967 and 1969. He also resided at a halfway house run by the order in Nevis, Minn., in 1969 and its other halfway house in St. Louis in 1971.

Authorities at New Mexico's Department of Health said yesterday that the Paraclete center, where Porter was treated for his sexual abuse problems between 1967 and 1969, has never been licensed as a medical facility.

Matthew Gerbase, program manager for the department's Bureau of Licensing and Certification, said the department could find no record in its files that showed that the Paraclete's facilities had been approved by the department.

"We've heard a lot about this facility over the past few days," Gerbase said in a telephone interview, "and I cannot find any reference in our files that we have licensed it or ever even inspected it." He said the department would contact the Paraclete Order in the near future to learn more about its operations.

Law enforcement authorities in New Mexico also expressed an interest yesterday in the Paraclete operation. New Mexico has on its books a criminal statute requiring that all professionals, including psychotherapists, report any incidents of sexual abuse of children to local prosecutors. However, Sandy Barnhardt y Chavez, who heads the sexual abuse unit for Sandoval County, where the Paraclete center is located, said she had never been contacted by Paraclete officials about its operations.

"I know what they do there for priests, but they've never brought to my attention any incidents that they may know about before or after the priests have gotten there," Chavez said. "I suppose we should learn a little more about them."

Dr. Jay Feierman, a licensed psychiatrist who treats priests at Paraclete, said he did not believe that the center needed to be licensed by New Mexico authorities since it was not a medical facility. While Feierman declined to provide details of the center's operations, he told a reporter for The Rocky Mountain News in 1987 that he had treated "hundreds" of priests there who had been attracted to adolescents.

Those sexually attracted to children receive special treatment, Feierman told the reporter, the only one ever granted access to the Paraclete facility. Those priests often spend about 18 months in therapy, Feierman said, receiving both counseling and drugs that diminish their sex drives.

While some therapists have concluded that it is impossible to cure pedophiles, Feierman said, the treatment center had achieved a creditable success rate. Only two or three graduates had ever acted "inappropriately" after leaving the treatment center, he said.

This article was reported in Albuquerque by Linda Matchan and in Boston by Stephen Kurkjian.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 7/16/1992.
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