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Porter says church to blame

Memory of crimes hazy, ex-priest says

By James L. Franklin, Globe Staff, 12/8/1993

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
ames R. Porter -- sentenced this week to 18 to 20 years for sexually abusing 28 boys and girls -- blames the Catholic Church for the way it handled him when he was a priest in the Diocese of Fall River.

"It was the church that sent me from one parish to another," Porter complained in an interview published yesterday in the Fall River Herald News. The former clergyman insisted he had only uncertain memories of the crimes of which he was accused.

The day before he was sentenced, Porter insisted he had no memory of the crimes or the people he was accused of abusing in North Attleborough and Fall River.

He blamed the memory loss on electric shock treatments received at a hospital in Wellesley.

Yet Porter insisted that his assaults only amounted to fondling.

"I don't think I ever penetrated any kids. I know I would rub against them sometimes, and the ultimate for me was to be able to rub my bare body against their bare body," he told the Herald News.

"The charges that I penetrated them are outrageous," Porter said.

The former priest said he could recall some incidents in New Bedford, which occurred after he underwent the shock therapy. Still, he added, "I never remember really abusing anyone there."

Porter said he pleaded guilty Monday to the 41 charges for which he was sentenced in Bristol Superior Court only because he remembered that he was attracted to children, and reasoned that if he was accused of specific actions, he must be guilty.

Porter said he was never attracted to girls while growing up in East Boston. "My only enjoyment was hanging out with the guys and sports," he said.

In the interview, Porter repeated statements made during his sentencing, that he was sorry for "the horrible things I have done."

Porter said he pleaded guilty to spare his family. "I just wasn't going to put my wife and kids through the pain of a public trial. Christ, can you imagine how much crap they would have dragged out, and, since I have no real memory of the incidents, I wouldn't be able to defend myself," he said.

Porter also complained that the church he once served had let him down, treating him differently from other priests involved in abuse charges.

"Where is this church now? The diocese called for prayers for Father Paul Connolly a Taunton pastor also accused of abusing children in the 1960s.

"Where are the prayers for Jim Porter? More important, where are the prayers for his wife and children?" Porter said, sobbing.

His wife, Verlyne, who was present during Porter's sentencing, was strongly supportive of her husband. "Jim is not an evil man," she said. "He had his problems and he had a sickness, but he is not evil."

"These so-called Porter victims should forgive Jim. He was sick. The hate they have will eat away at them. For their own sakes they must put the hurt behind them," Verlyne Porter said.

Porter spoke tearfully of his children, who he said wanted to put the family Christmas tree up after Thanksgiving.

"Friday night the kids took me out to dinner. It was fun but I cried when I got home and realized that it might be a long time before we eat together again," he said. "I wrote each of them a separate note before I left so they would have something to read when I was away, something to tell them how much I love them."

Meanwhile, a Weld administration official used Porter's sentencing to criticize the state's criminal sentencing system.

"Because our sentencing system allows for early release eligibility after less than one third of the minimum sentence for certain offenses such as sodomy, inmate Porter is eligible for parole after six years in prison," said Thomas C. Rapone, secretary of public safety.

He called for passage of a bill requiring inmates to serve the minimum sentence imposed.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 12/8/1993.
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