Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Father James Porter


James Porters imprisonment, despite its celebration by his victims, did not put the grim case to rest. Questions remained about the churchs role in concealing Porters crimes, and its ongoing denial in public pronouncements. Some who sheltered Porter were beyond the reach of lawsuits. Father Armando Annunziato, elevated to monsignor after witnessing Porters rape of at least one victim, was dying of throat cancer in 1992, unable to speak in his own defense. Bishop Connolly was dead, his cheerful endorsements of Porter forever unexplained - except by his replacement, Bishop Sean OMalley, O.F.M.Cap. who suggested that severe depression may have clouded his judgment where Father Porter was concerned.

Massachusetts law limited civil liability of charitable institutions to a maximum of $20,000 per victim, but lawsuits spawned by Porters crimes still cost Bay State Catholics at least $5 million. In New Mexico, lawsuits filed by 21 victims against the church and Servants of the Paraclete were settled for $17 million in November 1994. A month later, more lawsuits filed by victims of another serial molester - Father David Holley - were settled for an undisclosed but very substantial amount of money. Six properties held by the church in New Mexico were sold to pay off 135 damage claims, expected to top $50 million.

In Santa Fe, Archbishop Robert Sanchez maintained the tradition of denial, blaming lawsuits filed against the church on Jewish attorneys driven by hatred of Catholics. That claim, however, failed to explain Sanchezs own resignation in 1993, after his sexual affairs with five parish women were exposed. Phase two of the denial in New Mexico was advanced by Archbishop Michael Sheehan in September 1996, with the strange assertion that Sanchez was not fully aware that it was a crime to sexually abuse children until 1981. No explanation was forthcoming as to how that mental lapse accounted for Sanchezs denials between 1981 and 1993.

Bernard Law (AP)
Bernard Law

Back in Massachusetts, meanwhile, Cardinal Law and his subordinates faced a new battery of lawsuits for their kid-glove handling of pedophile priest John Geoghan, revealing that church leaders had learned nothing from their mistakes with James Porter. Father Geoghan had abused at least 70 boys between 1962 and 1995, shuffled from one parish to another, repeatedly committed for ineffective treatment, before the Church finally defrocked him in 1998.

If there was any bright spot in the case, it lay in the empowerment of victims. News of Porters first parole hearing sparked protests in April 2000, when survivors of the priests crime spree discovered that victims were barred from addressing Massachusetts parole boards unless an offender was sentenced to life imprisonment. Agitation in the state legislature changed that rule in June 2001, with enactment of a statute permitting the victims of any violent crime or sexual offense to speak at parole hearings throughout Massachusetts.