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Porter held in Minn. on Mass. charges

Ex-priest is indicted in abuse cases

By Linda Matchan and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 9/22/1992

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
ormer priest James R. Porter was indicted yesterday in Bristol County for allegedly abusing dozens of youths during the 1960s in three parishes in southeastern Massachusetts, according to sources.

Troy Ruby, a spokesman for the Washington County Sheriff's Department in Stillwater, Minn., said yesterday that Porter, 57, was arrested "without incident" at his home by Oakdale, Minn., police at 3:10 p.m. central time, on a warrant issued from the Bristol district attorney's office.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., a Boston attorney representing Porter's accusers, said Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh told him that Porter was indicted yesterday by a grand jury. He said Walsh, who could not be reached for comment, declined to tell him what the charges were, except to say they were "sex-related offenses, including indecent assault and battery."

MacLeish said his clients had not been called before the grand jury to give testimony. However, Walsh's office had taken sworn statements from dozens of them during the summer for use in seeking indictments once he made the decision to go forward with the prosecution.

Porter has been accused of sexually molesting scores of boys and girls in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford, where he worked as a parish priest. Civil lawsuits have been filed against Porter in northern Minnesota and New Mexico alleging that he also assaulted youths at a church in Bemidji, Minn., and in New Mexico following treatment there at a center for troubled priests run by a Catholic order.

In addition to accusations involving alleged wrongdoing as a priest, Porter has been accused of sexually molesting children in his hometown of Revere as well as in Rhode Island.

Alleged victims have described an assortment of offenses, ranging from fondling to rape.

Porter's lawyer in Massachusetts released a statement last night saying that he did not think that Porter could receive a fair trial because of the barrage of publicity that has surrounded the investigation.

"Under these circumstances, I do not believe it would be appropriate for me to discuss this case, except in the Superior Court," said Peter G. DeGelleke.

Porter spent the night at Washington County Jail in Stillwater, pending an extradition hearing today at the Sheriff's Department. In an affidavit earlier this month, Porter said that he would not fight extradition if he were charged with any crimes.

Several of Porter's accusers in southeastern Massachusetts said they were informed of the indictment yesterday by Walsh's office. Alleged victim George Hardy said he spoke to assistant district attorney Renee P. Dupuis, who told him that Porter was indicted on 46 counts, involving 32 victims.

"This is a great day for sexual abuse victims," said MacLeish. "A lot of the credit has to go to the victims for pushing so hard to make this happen. This shows what advocacy by sexual abuse victims can do."

"Some of us have heard from people who have questioned whether these things happened or not, and this is a form of validation," said George Hardy of North Attleborough, who says Porter sexually abused him when he was 13. "I want to face that man in court."

Bruce Jones, the Minneapolis attorney representing Porter, yesterday declined comment on the case.

Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney representing Minnesota victims, said he intends to go forward in the civil cases against Porter. One purpose of the lawsuits, he said, is to determine the role of the Catholic Church in allowing Porter to serve in parishes in Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico despite continued complaints about his conduct.

The Fall River Diocese controlled Porter's assignments within the Catholic Church, and in 1967 sent him to a rehabilitation center in New Mexico to receive counseling and treatment.

However, according to civil lawsuits that were filed during the summer, Porter is alleged to have abused as many as 20 other persons at churches in Bemidji and in Truth or Consequences, N.M., where he had been assigned in 1969 and 1970 following treatment at the center for troubled priests, run by the Servants of the Paraclete.

In late July, Porter released a statement in which he acknowledged that he had molested youths while serving as a priest. However, Porter said that he had stopped molesting youths when he left the priesthood in 1974.

Porter, now married and the father of four children, has been living in the St. Paul area since the early 1970s. Soon after leaving the priesthood, he worked for two banks, but for at least the past 15 years he has worked only as a math tutor at a local parochial school. Officials at the school have told reporters they have received no complaints about Porter.

Walsh's investigation began last May after nine alleged victims came forward with stories of their experiences with Porter in North Attleborough. Frank Fitzpatrick, a Rhode Island private detective who says Porter raped him, brought the case to light after tracking down the former priest and taping a series of telephone conversations in which Porter appears to acknowledge some abuse of children while serving in parishes in North Attleborough, Fall River and New Bedford.

In recent weeks, some of Porter's accusers have voiced frustration at the pace of Walsh's investigation. Walsh contended that, because of a number of legal and factual hurdles facing him, his investigation had to be painstakingly comprehensive.

Among the most serious problems was the statute of limitations that prohibits prosecution of most felonies if they took place more than six years ago.

However, in Massachusetts, the clock stops running on the six-year limit during any time the accused person is out of state. Since Porter appears to have left Massachusetts sometime in 1967, any assaults he was alleged to have committed after 1961 could still be prosecuted, Walsh told the Globe in July.

Expecting that Porter's lawyers would still raise such issues at trial, Walsh said recently that he has been pressing his investigators to come up with as precise a chronology as possible of Porter's whereabouts since he entered the priesthood in 1960.

An additional problem facing Walsh was that, until 1974, Massachusetts criminal laws contained no specific statute that outlawed the rape of males. It could not be determined last night how Walsh dealt with that problem. However, lawyers had expected Walsh to seek indictments on the less specific charge of criminal assault.

Walsh also feared that Porter's lawyers would be able to get indictments thrown out on constitutional grounds. Walsh reasoned that Porter's lawyers would contend that they could not prepare a proper defense because the accusations being leveled against him involve alleged incidents that date back as far as 30 years ago.

To offset that expected defense, Walsh has spurred his investigators to gather as much detailed evidence as possible buttressing the allegations against Porter. During the summer, Walsh's investigators interviewed and took sworn statements from dozens of people who alleged that they had been molested by Porter during his tenure as a priest in the three communities.

In addition, Walsh's investigators have questioned Rev. Armando Annunziato, a colleague of Porter at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough. Several alleged victims told the Globe in July that Father Annunziato witnessed Porter assaulting them but did nothing to stop the abuse. Father Annunziatio, in a recent television interview, denied that he had witnessed any such acts or had known that Porter was molesting youths at the church.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 9/22/1992.
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