In 1993, Father James Porter pled guilty to sexually abusing 28 children in parishes in southeastern Massachusetts in the 1960’s. Unfortunately, those heinous actions were the tip of the iceberg. With the assistance of church leaders from the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts to the Diocese of Crookston to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Fr. Porter abused children across the United States with impunity.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the operating protocol with respect to Fr. Porter, a known child molester, was: Protect Porter. Fr. Porter’s 1973 letter to Pope Paul VI, petitioning for laicization, candidly outlines the quiet destruction he wrought in the lives of unsuspecting children in parish after parish, diocese after diocese. Porter documents that, as early as 1963, Bishop James L. Connolly in the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts knew Porter, “had become homosexually involved with some of the youth of the parish.”
Thus began Porter’s involvement in the Catholic Priest Protection program. Porter could not have had better assistance if he was a high value federal witness. Bishop Connolly shuffled Porter between parishes in Massachusetts to keep the heat off him.
According to Porter, as early as 1965, Bishop Connolly suggested laicization from the clerical state for Porter. But Connolly did not demand it. He left the decision to Porter, an uncontrollable child molester. Nor did Connolly report Porter’s crimes to law enforcement. Instead, Bishop Connolly broke up his parish re-assignments with stays at facilities such as St. Luke’s Institute in Maryland and the Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico.
As the secrecy and deception went nationwide, Porter sought assignments in Las Vegas, Nevada, Houston, Texas, New Mexico, and eventually in the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota. After abusing children at St. Philip’s Parish in Bemidji, Minnesota, Porter “was asked by the pastor to leave until things cooled off…’
In 1970, after leaving Minnesota and another visit to the Servants of the Paraclete in St. Louis, Bishop Connolly suspended Porter from priestly duties. For the next several years, Porter lived his life as a lay person, and according to Porter, was forced to admit that he “was using the priesthood as a protection and a means to foster [his] sickness.”
From everything we know, Fr. Porter showed no remorse for the destruction he caused to the lives of children across the United States. Church documents illustrate that Porter’s superiors showed similar disregard for children. Within the laicization paperwork created by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1973 is a questionnaire completed by Bishop James L. Connolly of the Diocese of Fall River. In contemplating Fr. Porter’s future, Bishop Connolly wrote, “He should be protected, and kept away from youth, especially early teenagers.” In other words—Protect Porter—children are but a secondary consideration.
Like Connolly, Fr. Porter knew the risk of leaving the protection provided by the clerical state and his Bishop. In 1973, Porter knew that, “In the lay life I found out of a necessity that I must cope with the problem or suffer serious consequences.” Porter knew that “serious consequences” meant that, without the protection of the church, law enforcement might hold him accountable for molesting children.
Porter’s premonition was correct. Without the assistance of the Catholic Priest Protection program, his nefarious actions came to light, and he was arrested. Fr. Porter died in prison in 2005. Because of the Protect Porter policy, the legacy of ruined lives left in his wake is still be uncovered.
Jeff Anderson is an attorney and advocate working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse at Jeff Anderson & Associates.