Bad to the core.
“Support the rights of youth as well as adults to choose the partners with whom they wish to share and enjoy their bodies.”
-- From the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) Home Page
I grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, an old mill city built on the side of a hill overlooking Mount Hope Bay and the Taunton River. A large percentage of the population was then as now made up mostly of families new to America or here no more than a couple of generations.
Many who were here then came from the eastern parts of Canada, particularly the French speaking parts of Quebec. Others came from Ireland, Italy and beginning just before the depression, from the Azores, one of the Portuguese islands in the Atlantic.
The city peaked in population before World War I, reaching about 135,000. It now stands at about 90,000.
Many of the one-hundred granite stone mills burned down over the years, while others were converted to office buildings, refurbished to cater to the needles trade (clothing manufacturing) and apartment buildings.
Fall River was hit especially hard by the depression and was one of the few cities anywhere to be placed into receivership.
Since its heyday as a leading cotton manufacturing center of the world, Fall River has never fully recovered and unemployment has been chronic.
It was a good city for a boy to grow up. The city had many parks to accommodate the summer leisure time of its children. Baseball was a big deal then. I would leave home early in the morning with a peanut butter sandwich, two nickels (for an orange soda to wash down the peanut butter and a grape Popsicle), my glove, a baseball covered with black electrical tape, and bat with screws in the handle to pursue my dream of becoming a big leaguer some day.
I played my organized baseball later at North Park where my granddad, dad and most recently my son Arthur played. The days though were spent at Ruggles Park. Hundreds of young people played there. We would have as many as three baseball games going on at one time. The basketball, handball, and tennis courts would all be occupied from early morning to supper time as well. Ruggles was located only a block from Sacred Heart Church.
Some of the more fortunate boys would spend a week or two at Cathedral Camp in East Freetown, Massachusetts, about twenty miles away. The girls went to Our Lady of the Lake, adjacent to Cathedral. The two have been combined in recent years.
The camp is operated by the Catholic Church’s Fall River Diocese. Today it is a day camp for children 4 to 13. Many of the counselor positions are filled by seminarians.
Some of the kids who played at Ruggles Park spent some time at those camps in the 1950’s. Back then the camp was a full time facility where most of the campers stayed overnight for one or two weeks at a time.
Kids on playgrounds talk, and there was talk of things that were not really right at the camp. No names were mentioned then, but we often heard campers tried to stay away from some of the counselors. A few of the counselors were physically abusive while others were into touching. Most boys instinctively avoid such contact.
Later, one such counselor who kids had difficulties with became the center of one of the most tragic periods in Sacred Heart Parish history. James Porter was born in Revere, Massachusetts in 1935. As a boy Porter demonstrated a desire to be a priest. In that era a boy indicating a “calling to the priesthood” was treated differently from his peers. His evil side reared its head at a fairly early time.
No one knows for sure when his abuse of children began but there is evidence he molested a twelve year old boy in a summer camp in 1953, the year before he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. At the time Porter was only eighteen.
Seminarian Porter worked at Cathedral Camp from 1956 to 1960. He had a history of molestations there. One of his victims would later become an FBI agent.
The year before his ordination, 1958, he fondled the genitals of a boy he was driving home from an event.
There is no record of whether church officials were aware of James Porter’s incidents of molesting children. In the 1950’s boys were not then inclined to admit to being so abused. Children in general now as then, are not so inclined to speak up, especially a boy .
Porter was ordained into the priesthood in 1960 and assigned to St. Mary’s Church in North Attleboro, Massachusetts and its parochial grammar school. He became known as a lover of children as soon as he began there. He was very involved in teaching boys how to play baseball and regularly took altar boys to amusement parks.
He organized sports programs and a children’s choir at St. Mary’s. He often took groups of children to the beach, to Cathedral Camp, and to basketball games in Boston. His youthful enthusiasm inspired young and old parishioners alike. That is until the first indication of “his problem” became known.
The dark side of James Porter reared its ugly head the first week after he arrived.
The Bristol County Grand Jury in 1990 and Porter’s trial in 1992 revealed his first known victim was a fifth grade student at St. Mary’s Grammar School. The boy was a prospective Altar Boy who lived next door to St. Mary’s. The boy went to Porter’s room to have cake and soda. Shortly after the boy arrived in the room Porter asked him to rub his back, that he felt “stiff from moving furniture”. Once the boy showed a willingness to rub his back Porter lowered his pants and took the boy’s hand and placed it on his privates while he began to fondle the boy. This became a regular event weekly for three years.
Porter was not only attracted to boys. One girl in particular, a ten-year old classmate of the first boy was lured to his office. Porter asked the girl to help him prepare a basketball roster. No sooner was she in the office he began to fondle her. He stalked the girl for years taking her in bathrooms, classrooms and hallways.
It didn’t take long for Porter to have dozens of victims. A few girls but his primary target was boys.
Years later one girl said, “When I would scream he would put his hand over my mouth so no one could hear me.”
In another instant an 11-year-old girl caught Porter raping a six-year-old in a bathroom at St. Mary’s Grammar School. “I tried to stop him,” she reported, “but he grabbed me and sodomized me. He was absolutely violent. He told me he was stronger than me and that he had the power of God.”
Porter molested children in their own bedrooms when Porter came to “say goodnight” after having dinner with their families.
He took children on field trips, especially to his summer house in Rhode Island. He would spend all night roaming from one bedroom to another.
On other occasions he would bring a group of children to his office, the priest would call a girl to stand on either side of his chair, then slip his hands under their skirts while others stood by his desk. Within a year of his arrival at St. Mary’s, a cry of “Father Porter’s coming!” had the power to clear hallways at the parish school, as children fled in fear.
The children who dared to tell found there was no relief. One girl (now a woman) who was one of Father Porter’s victims, once saw Porter standing with his pants unzipped before two altar boys and ran to tell the other parish priest. Rather than going to investigate that priest shouted at the girl, “Why are you stirring up trouble?” and slammed his door in her face. She then told a nun at the school. For her efforts she was forced to stand up in class, confess her “lie” and apologize for blackening Porter’s good name.
That same priest had personal knowledge of Porter’s crimes. He once walked in on Porter while Porter was sodomizing one of his many victims. The other priest then turned and left the room without a word, closing the door behind him.
On another occasion this priest knocked on Porter’s locked office door while Porter was inside, molesting yet another victim. He asked Porter, “What’s going on in there?” Porter refused to admit him. Rather than forcing the issue, the priest simply told Porter, “It’s getting late, time for everyone to go home.” The priest left and Porter continued his assault.
Porter had three dozen victims at St. Mary’s before parents caught on to his activities with their children. Most of his victims were abused regularly.
Even after the parents caught him he continued.
The shame was not that there was a sicko masquerading as a priest, it was the cover-up by other priests and the administrators of the diocese, a pattern which would be repeated in diocese after diocese throughout the country and many other places in the world.
The church defended Porter. An angry mother confronted both other parish priests telling them, “There’s no way I’m going to take communion from that man’s dirty hands.” The two priests tried appeasement.
When that didn’t work they turned angry on her with one priest saying, “What are you trying to do, crucify the man?”
Complaints came over and over during the next few months, until leaders of the Fall River Diocese assured one parishioner an uncle of one of the male victims that Porter would be placed in counseling.
It was the first of many lies.
Fall River’s Bishop James Connolly sent Porter home to his parents with orders to “contemplate and pray” for the forgiveness of his sins.
Father Porter obeyed, but he did not reform.
The diocese could no longer plead ignorance of Porter’s activities. In March 1964, Monsignor Humberto Medeiros - later cardinal and archbishop of Boston - told Bishop Connolly that Porter had molested 30 or 40 children during his years at St. Mary’s. Some estimates go as high as a hundred or more victims in North Attleboro.
Monsignor Medeiros would later wind up in the early stages of the cover-up in the Boston Archdiocese during his time as cardinal and archbishop.
No action was taken on him until Porter embarrassed the church when he was arrested for molesting a 13-year-old boy in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire State police obliged a church request by escorting Porter to the Massachusetts border and setting him free. Bishop Connolly, for his part, made a note in Porter’s file that the latest victim was a “non-Cath,” suggesting that church influence might be unable to bury the case.
Finally, with great reluctance, the church sent Father Porter to Wiswall Hospital in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in care of Dr. Norris Flanagan.
Over the next thirteen months, Porter received a series of electro convulsive (“shock”) treatments at Wiswall. It was done in an effort to “cure” his condition. Treatment of that type began in 1938.
Actually electroshock therapy dated in fact from ancient times, when electric eels were used to treat ailments ranging from headaches to violent insanity. Most commonly used for depression today, the treatments remain controversial and sometimes proves fatal. Some patients who survive the treatment complain of permanent memory loss and/or unexpected changes in their personalities.
In September 1965, the Bishop decided Porter had “simmered down” enough for reassignment to normal parish duties. In a letter to Bishop Connolly, Porter declared: “I am feeling much better and doing very well, positively. There have been many temptations as you can imagine, but thank God, with His grace, I have handled them well.”
The day after writing that letter, as revealed in criminal charges filed in 1992, Porter molested two more children.
In August of 1963 he was transferred to Sacred Heart Church in Fall River, Massachusetts, 25 miles away. There he molested many more children.
I became aware of his proclivities in the early 1970’s when I coached the Sacred Heart CYO baseball team. The players ranged in age from fifteen to nineteen. Some talked about Porter. A couple had been altar boys the short time he was here. I don’t know whether any of my players were Porter victims but I always thought one or two of them had been victimized.
The pastor at Sacred Heart in Fall River was senile at the time and the parish priests had been assigned to the parish in the last three or four years. I suspect they knew more than they let on.
Some of the St. Mary’s people complained to Bishop Connolly when they learned Porter was assigned to another parish.
When reports reached the bishop of more molestations and rapes occurring at Sacred Heart Porter was again transferred, this time to Sacred Heart in New Bedford, Massachusetts, about fifteen miles from the Fall River parish.
The Pastor and his two assistants were informed of Porters activities at St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart in Fall River. Nevertheless, no effort was made to keep him away from children. He was an extra priest in New Bedford and was made chaplain at St. Luke’s Hospital in there.
Because he was the extra priest Porter had plenty of time on his hands.
In no time, complaints poured in to the pastor.
Church officials ignored Porter’s crimes in New Bedford. However with 28 known victims since his arrival in town, the clamor of protest was soon inescapable.
Bishop Connolly sent Porter back to his parents once more, with new orders to pray and repent, but the exile was short lived. In late 1966, a friend of Porter’s in a nearby parish invited Porter to join his church. Porter gladly agreed - and soon began molesting children there, as well.
Finally by April 1967 he had finally gone too far. Porter was once again removed from active duty and committed for treatment of his “problem.” This time, the church avoided doctors and dispatched him for a session with the Servants of the Paraclete, a religious order of priests in New Mexico. If nothing else, the change of scene would help convince parishioners in Massachusetts that Porter was finally out of their lives.
By July 1967 the Paraclete staff saw “real hope” for Porter’s rehabilitation, and he was recommended for a trial basis to say Mass at various churches in New Mexico.
Bishop Connolly sent a letter to the archbishop of Santa Fe, saying, “I cheerfully endorse [Porter’s] application” there.
He was assigned to fill in for a vacationing priest at Truth-or-Consequences, New Mexico. It should have been named Trick or Treat because Porter soon relapsed into “his old failings” (as described in Paraclete files) and molested at least six more children - including one victim confined to a full-body cast at a local hospital.
Ever the optimists, the Paracletes sent Porter off to Houston, Texas, on a probationary assignment.
True to form he molested more children there and was shipped back to New Mexico. Assigned to another parish in the Land of Enchantment, Porter repeated his offenses yet again and was brought back for further “treatment.” At last, in August 1969, Porter was cleared for assignment to St. Phillip’s parish in Bemidji, Minnesota.
It was not long for Porter to return to his ways. Finally his pastor there was confronted by a father of a boy Porter had molested. Unlike the situation in Masachusetts, he was shipped back to the Paraclete order in New Mexico, for more prayers, pottery classes, and nature walks. He also received some stern, unexpected advice.
For the first time in a decade of non-stop criminal activity, Porter’s therapist - Father Fred Bennett - finally suggested that he leave the priesthood.
It was not until 1974 that Porter requested to be relieved from his priestly vows. In his letter to Pope Paul VI, he mentioned he had been hiding behind his collar when he did his misdeeds. He was released from the priesthood only to stay in Minnesota where he married.
Throughout he continued preying on children. Among his victims were baby sitters to his own children.
More than two-hundred survivors named Porter in allegations of sexual abuse, nearly one hundred filing civil or criminal complaints against the former priest and church leaders who sheltered him through the years. Over the years the Fall River diocese settled claims with about one-hundred victims.
More suits were filed in Texas and New Mexico, including actions focused on the Servants of the Paraclete.
In December 1992 Porter was tried in Minnesota for the molestation of his children’s teenage babysitter some years earlier. His conviction led to a six-month jail sentence. The Minnesota Supreme Court overturned the verdict because the prosecutor said the jurors would be “fools” if they believed Porter’s wife, Verylyne’s, testimony on behalf of her husband.
His luck was running out.
On October 4, 1993, Porter plea bargained with his prosecutors. He pled guilty to forty-one counts of child molestation committed at five Massachusetts parishes between 1961 and 1967.
On December 20, Judge Robert Steadman handed Porter a prison term of 18 to 20 years, with parole eligibility after six years.
Though Porter’s imprisonment brought some satisfaction to his victims, many of the people who covered up for Porter were treated well.
The priest who had caught then Father James Porter molesting children at St. Mary’s in the early 1960’s was elevated to Monsignor by Bishop Sean O’Malley in 1992. We never got an explanation of why he transferred repeatedly and recommended him with a “cheerful endorsement”. Bishop James Connolly died before the whole fiasco concerning Porter blew up.
When the Porter issue finally made the light of day I was on weekdays noon to three on WHJJ and Saturday mornings on WRKO.
Initially when I discussed the Porter/church scandal on the air I was berated for being an apostate Catholic. There were reports of similar nastiness in the Providence arch diocese as well. None were even nearly as prolific as James Porter.
When settlements in New Mexico and Minnesota are added to the Porter’s transgressions cost Catholics over $20,000,000.
It was interesting to note the responses to the problems caused by the evil deeds of these men was just about the same. Secrecy, bribes, transfers. The policy was as Archbishop Michael Sheehan of New Mexico put it, “was not fully aware that it was a crime to sexually abuse children until 1981.” I hope Sheehan was lying. It would be hard to believe anyone stupid enough to could rise to any position of authority as powerful as bishop.
The Porter saga would be just a preview of the same types of activities in the Boston arch-diocese. Interestingly, two important players wound up at the center of the Boston scandal.
Priestly sexual abuse of children did not start or end with James Porter. His transgressions merely called attention to a serious problem in the Catholic Church which had been “swept under the rug” for far too many years. It was not only a problem of the Catholic Church. Other organizations such as The Boy Scouts of America. The Scouts, however, acted decisively in dealing with their problem. Church leaders assumed a posture of an Ostrich.
Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law and his subordinates faced a large number of revelations which began to make headlines in the late 1990’s. The problems of priestly malfeasance went back decades. The handling of pedophile priest John Geoghan revealed that church leaders had learned nothing from their mistakes with James Porter. Father Geoghan had abused at least 70 boys between 1962 and 1995. He was moved from one parish to another. He was sent for “treatment” repeatedly. None worked. The Church finally defrocked him in 1998.
The good thing about Porter and Geoghan is the revelations of what they did and how the leaders of the Catholic Church treated them empowered many victims to come forward.
What began as a story of a couple of bad priests and the poor manner in which they were handled began a tidal wave which swept the country. We have since learned the problems existed in nearly every in diocese large and small. We now know is was not limited to the United States.
We will never know how deep the problems concerning pedophile priests runs. Also, a question I’ve asked repeatedly on air deals with whether or not there is a difference between a pedophile and molester.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines pedophilia as: “Sexual perversion in which children are the preferred sexual object”. Some priests were attracted to teen boys who were not children. Yet many crossed over the ages and some, sexes.
We won’t go into a thorough re-examination of all the priest scandals. To do so would require a book devoted to that subject alone. The examples of William Porter and John Geoghan and their handling typified the manner in which their crimes were carried out and how they were concealed by church leaders.
However there was one priest whose activities were bold and open. Yet they were ignored and denied repeatedly.
The Rev. Paul R. Shanley had a reputation as a Boston "street priest" in the 1960s and 70s. He worked with runaways, drug addicts, and teenagers struggling with questions about their sexual identity. Many he dealt with became his victims.
Church officials knew of Shanley’s activities for decades. Files made public over the years indicate church officials knew of his molestations as well as his public advocacy of sex between men and boys. Despite this, Shanley was shuttled from parish to parish in the Boston Archdiocese, and eventually transferred to a California church with a letter of recommendation from one of Cardinal Bernard Law's top deputies.
In May 2002, Shanley was arrested in San Diego, where he had been living, and returned to Massachusetts to face 10 counts of child rape and six counts of indecent assault and battery stemming from his assignment at a Newton parish in the 1980s.
After seven months in prison, Shanley was released on $300,000 bail in December 2002. He lived in Provincetown while he awaited trial.
In February of 2005, Paul Shanley was found guilty by a jury of the rape of a minor and received a sentence of 12 to 15 years in prison. Before his trial Shanley had lived a charmed life, moved not only from parish to parish, but from city to city, all with the blessing of one of the most influential men in the American Catholic Church.
Documents released in April 2002 by the Boston Archdiocese revealed that Shanley was a member of the North American Man-Boy Love Association.
When he was elevated to Cardinal, Bernard Law was considered by some to possibly be the first United States’ Pope. Relatively young, charismatic, articulate, bright. Very competent politically.
All that came to an end because of his handling of the priestly abuse scandal.
Did Law do anything different from his processors? Probably not. From what has been revealed in the last few years Cardinals Cushing and Medeiros did essentially the same.
As a matter of fact denial, parsing, covering up were a way of life in church circles.
I am not usually a believer in conspiracies. However when hundreds of priests in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire were guilty of abusing children, many more knew of the evil deeds and did nothing.
We know in the case of James Porter many priests and even some Nuns were aware of his “weakness”. I suspect many blamed the victim as a means of satisfying their consciences.
Things were so bad Shanley, was recommended by Cardinal Law to be a chaplain at St. Leo House in New York City in 1995. St. Leo House is a home for runaway boys. Talk about a gift to Shanley.
How far up the hierarchical ladder did knowledge of wide spread abuse of children go? Was Rome aware of the goings on? Did the Pope know?
The real question is , “How could they not have known?”