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Spotlight Report

Victims oppose release of Porter

Testimony is heard in state bid to keep ex-priest locked up

By John Ellement, Globe Staff, 4/6/2004

TAUNTON -- When he was 11 years old and Rev. James R. Porter was his parish priest in Minnesota, a man who now sells annuities for a Catholic organization was one of Porter's favorites, the man testified yesterday.

Being singled out by Porter meant unrelenting sexual assaults, the 45-year-old man said in Bristol Superior Court, where prosecutors are seeking to have the former priest declared a "sexually dangerous person.

"The man said Porter molested and raped him as a boy more than 100 times: in the sacristy of their church in Bemidji, Minn., in the church basement, in the rectory, in Porter's car, even in the boy's bedroom while his brother slept 3 feet away. Once, Porter sexually assaulted him on the roof of the Catholic elementary school where he was a student, he said. "Any time he was with me alone, and every time, he abused me," said the man, whose name is not being published by the Globe because he is a victim of a sex crime. "I guess I was one of his favorites, so I got to do it more often."

The man was one of four people to testify yesterday that they had been raped, molested, or indecently touched by Porter from the 1960s to the 1980s, including two former baby-sitters.

Porter's former wife, Verlyne K. Gray, said that he admitted to her in the early 1990s that he was a serial pedophile. "He said it was true, that he had touched boys, molested them . . . when he was a priest," she testified.

Yesterday's probable-cause hearing was the first step in a two-stage process. Bristol Assistant District Attorney Renee P. Dupuis sought to convince Superior Court Judge David A. McLaughlin that Porter, now 69, should be locked up for 60 days while independent evaluators assess whether he is currently sexually dangerous. A trial, which could take place in front of a jury, is required to decide if Porter, imprisoned since December 1993, should be civilly committed to the Massachusetts Treatment Center for a period ranging from one day to life. In January, he finished serving his sentence for abusing 26 children while serving as a priest in Fall River in the 1960s. However, the former priest has remained behind bars because of the petition to declare him sexually dangerous.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River reached a $5 million settlement with Porter's victims in 1992.

The court-appointed lawyer for Porter told reporters that prosecutors are engaging in a "witch hunt" given Porter's age, noting that the most serious acts of rape and abuse occurred long ago.

"You know what happens to the libido past 50," said attorney Michael F. Farrington. "Most of the [assaults] they are talking about are 20 years old or older.'

According to testimony, Porter left the priesthood in 1970, married Gray in 1976, and had four children while living in a St. Paul suburb.

Prosecutors allege that Porter molested nearly 100 boys and girls in Massachusetts between 1960 and 1967 while working in the Fall River Diocese. He was transferred out of state by church officials and during the next several years molested children in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Minnesota, officials have said.

Anne M. Milner, a former nun who has described herself as Porter's fiancee for at least the past two years, said he has changed and is no longer the person who used his position as a priest to molest children.

Milner said outside the courtroom that once Porter is released, she will become "the object of his affection and desire."

Pedophilia is "an addiction . . . there's no cure for it," she said, adding that she and Porter will work together. "His goal is no more victims," she said.

Gray, who told the Globe last year that she believed Porter had abused three of their four children, provided the court with two letters that Porter wrote to her in 1996. In the first, Porter admits that he continued to be tempted to molest children but insists that he is working, through sex offender therapy, to end that habit.

In the second letter, Porter adamantly denied molesting his own children. "I never, ever thought about it or was tempted to even touch our own children," he wrote in June 5, 1996.

Watching the hearing was Frank Fitzpatrick Jr., who pushed authorities to investigate Porter in the early 1990s. Fitzpatrick, who was molested by Porter, believes Porter would offend again if freed.

"Forty years of abusing kids is important" for the judge to consider, Fitzpatrick said.

The hearing is expected to continue through the end of the week.


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