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Years of Ugly Rumors Turn to Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Former Priest

May 17, 1992

NORTH ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) _ Ugly rumors circulated for 30 years, but young parishioners of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church kept quiet. Now, the subject that was taboo in their childhoods is the talk of the town.

Emboldened by the work of a private investigator who was one of their classmates, dozens of people have come forward to say they were sexually abused by their priest.

″For me, it was the loss of innocence, and the replacement of that with shame,″ said Dennis Gaboury, 40, who counts himself among the victims of James R. Porter.

St. Mary’s is in a sprawling complex with a home for retired nuns and a school where students and altar boys said they were assaulted by Porter, who left the priesthood in the early 1970s, married and had four children.

Many people in town remember him as a quiet priest popular with children. He oversaw the training of altar boys. Among them were Gaboury, who lives in Baltimore, and Frank Fitzpatrick, 42, of Plainville near North Attleboro in southeastern Massachusetts.

Gaboury and Fitzpatrick allege they were raped by Porter, 57, who lives in the St. Paul, Minn., suburb of Oakdale.

″I remember when Father Porter first came he wasn’t like the other priests,″ Fitzpatrick said. ″He was someone who acted warm and caring and like he loved you.″

Georgette Stoneking, who owns the Carousel Restaurant, said some of her customers weren’t surprised when the silence was broken.

″Everybody heard rumors about what was going on but nobody said anything,″ she said.

Fitzpatrick, an insurance adjuster and private investigator, was the first to speak out. He contacted classmates, tracked Porter to Minnesota and said he taped two telephone conversations he had with the former priest in 1990.

The man identified as Porter on the tape acknowledged molesting between 50 and 100 children. Porter told Boston television station WBZ the same thing.

No charges have been filed, but the Bristol County district attorney’s office is investigating.

Repeated attempts to reach Porter were unsuccessful. A woman who answered the telephone and identified herself as Mrs. Porter said: ″I am not making any comments. He is not making any comments. There is nothing to say.″

In one of the conversations taped by Fitzpatrick, Porter talked about receiving counseling and writing to Rome for a release from his vows so he could marry within the church.

″I guess I had quite a breakdown when it hit me all at once,″ said Porter, not knowing he was being taped. ″Don’t think I took it lightly.″

After nine people recently spoke to reporters about Porter, others came foreward. Now, 35 people have called the attorney representing the original nine and up to 45 men and women reportedly have made similar allegations. Porter was at the rectory from 1960-1963. In the late-1960s, he was sent to a hospital for electric shock as a cure, but admits to molesting children again four years later, the WBZ reported.

The former children of St. Mary’s said they have tracked down parents who tried to alert the church about Porter decades ago. The church responded by moving Porter first to Fall River, then to New Bedford, said Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney for some of the alleged victims.

″It is totally beyond dispute that the church was aware, by the time Porter was transferred to New Bedford, that he was a child molester,″ MacLeish said.

MacLeish said officials ″very high up″ in the church were aware of the allegations, but did nothing to help the children.

In a prepared statement, the Diocese of Fall River, which has jurisdiction over St. Mary’s, said it ″regrets the unfortunate manner in which allegations against a former priest have been made public.″

The diocese said that because the matter had become a legal issue it would be inappropriate to comment further.

Asked why parents went through the church to complain about Porter and never to police, Fitzpatrick speculated: ″I think people then thought of the church as being the ultimate authority.″

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