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Ex-priest says Porter abused boys in Revere

By Stephen Kurkjian and Linda Matchan, Globe Staff, 7/29/1992

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
he Fall River Catholic Diocese sent Rev. James Porter home to Revere on sick leave in 1966 without informing local church or city officials that he allegedly had been sexually abusing children, according to a former priest at Porter's home church in Revere.

Within a short time of arriving in Revere, the former priest said, Porter began working as a part-time priest at the Immaculate Conception Church as well as an informal baseball instructor, and soon allegedly began to accost and fondle children in Revere.

"I thought that he Porter was burned out from work or had hurt himself somehow, and that's why he was home," the former priest, who asked not to be named, said in an interview yesterday. "Fall River never told me anything, which is why I felt comfortable in putting him to work, helping me out."

However, the ex-priest said that several months later, during the summer of 1966, two Revere police officers approached him at the church and informed him that the son of another police officer had complained that Porter had grabbed the youth by the crotch during baseball practice.

The ex-cleric said he summoned Porter to the church, and with the police officers waiting in a nearby room, confronted Porter with the accusation.

"He mumbled something or other, like it involved a third person, not him, and right then I knew he had a bad problem," the ex-priest said. "I don't know how many kids he grabbed while he was here, but I've got to believe there's a bunch of them out there."

Over the last three months, more than 70 men and women have come forward saying they were sexually abused by Porter while he was assigned to the three Fall River Diocese parishes.

Porter has since left the priesthood and now lives in Minnesota, where he is married and has four children. Earlier this month, Porter acknowledged that he had molested numerous children while in the priesthood from 1960 to 1974.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer who represents most of the victims, says that Porter sexually abused four of them at the Porter family's home in Revere. The alleged assaults took place less than six years before Porter left Massachusetts in 1967. Massachusetts law states that when someone leaves the state, the statute of limitations is frozen. So it is believed that the alleged assaults from the 1960s might still be prosecutable offenses in Massachusetts today.

As the Porter saga continues to unfold with allegations that he molested youths in parishes in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Mexico, a key question emerges as to why he was allowed to find work as a priest despite the knowledge by the Fall River Diocese, which controlled his transfers, that he had allegedly molested children.

The recent revelation of alleged victims in the Revere area holds significance because it sheds some light on little-known aspects of Porter's life and activities in his home town.

Porter's family moved from East Boston to Revere in the early 1950s, and lived there in homes on Proctor and Suffolk avenues until the early 1970s. While his family was in Revere, Porter graduated from Boston College High School and Boston College. He went to St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore in 1956, and four years later he returned to Massachusetts to work as a priest in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford.

During the years he was away, Porter would often return to Revere on weekends, vacations and holidays. Often during those stays, according to several alleged victims who have recently stepped forward, Porter would allegedly molest youths he brought home with him from churches in southeastern Massachusetts or accost local youths at the church or on the baseball field.

"It is now apparent that many of my clients were abused within Suffolk County," said MacLeish, a specialist in child abuse law with the Boston law firm of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellot.

"While we are looking at Bristol County as the principal place for any prosecution, we will shortly contact Suffolk County to take whatever action is appropriate," MacLeish said. Bristol District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. continues to assess whether to seek criminal charges against Porter on those accusations.

Paul Leary, first assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, said yesterday he had not personally heard from any alleged victims of Porter, and declined to comment on whether he would move forward on any criminal complaints in Suffolk County.

The ex-priest from Revere's Immaculate Conception Church said that the day after he was told that Porter might be fondling children or worse, he called Monsignor Humberto Medeiros, then the chancellor of the Fall River Diocese, and demanded to know why Porter had been sent home to Revere without informing local church officials of his difficulties.

He said that Msgr. Medeiros acknowledged that officials in the Fall River Diocese realized that Porter had been abusing children and had sent him home hoping that he would find treatment for his problem.

A day or so later, the ex-priest said, Porter's father visited him at the church and told him that he had paid $10,000 out of his own pocket to get psychiatric treatment for his son. On hearing that, the ex-priest said, he called Msgr. Medeiros a second time and asked why the diocese was not paying for Porter's treatment.

A few months later, the ex-priest said, Porter's father visited him again at the church and told him that Porter had been caught by State Police in New Hampshire, allegedly molesting youths there. Porter was escorted to the Massachusetts line and told not to return to New Hampshire, the former priest recalled being told.

Sometime later, Porter left Revere and at the order of the Fall River Diocese, was sent to a church-run treatment center near Albuquerque.

In recent weeks, as the Porter case has gained national publicity, several people who knew Porter while he was growing up in Revere have come forward to allege that he made sexual advances toward them.

Richard Powers, editor of the Revere Journal, says Porter attempted to molest him once in 1960, when Powers was 12. As he described the episode in a column in the Revere Journal, Powers and another friend took a ride home with Porter one day when Porter, then a 25-year-old seminarian, was back in Revere for a family visit. Porter, Powers writes, attempted "to grab our crotches."

Frank Fitzpatrick, a Rhode Island private investigator who tracked Porter down last spring in Oakdale, Minn., says he has been in contact with six people alleging they were sexually abused by Porter in Suffolk County.

The earliest assault took place in 1953 when Porter was 18 and the alleged victim was 13, according to Fitzpatrick.

One 40-year-old man who grew up in Revere told the Globe that on one occasion in 1961 or 1962, Porter made a sexual advance toward him on a Revere Little League baseball field while he was trying out for a team at the age of 9 or 10. The man, who has asked not to be identified, said he recalls Porter standing on the field watching the tryouts, dressed in his priest's clothing.

"Some kids were lined up waiting for their turns at bat, and I noticed he went down the line hugging the kids from behind," said the man, who now lives on the North Shore and asked not to be identified. "The way he did it with me was he talked to me. He asked me if I wanted to be an altar boy: 'Do you love God? -- God loves you.' It was like a distraction, and at the same time he was groping me, humping me."

Despite the enormous public scrutiny of Porter's life, little is known about his childhood and family life in Revere. Two former neighbors and friends on Proctor Avenue say there was little in Porter's background to indicate that he was suffering emotional distress.

Tom Coppola, who grew up across the street from Porter's family on Proctor Avenue and described him as a "buddy," recalled Porter as an avid sports fan and "average kid, as straight as could be."

A man who lived next door to Porter on Proctor Avenue and who said he had been close friends with him as a teen-ager said Porter arrived in Revere from East Boston with a "devil-may-care attitude."

"Jimmy was a real tough guy from East Boston," said the former neighbor, who asked to remain anonymous. "And he was very religious, going to church every Sunday, making the novenas. The only thing we felt was weird about him was that he never dated; he never did the proms. But we assumed he never had a girlfriend because he knew he wanted to be a priest."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 7/29/1992.
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