Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Father James Porter


The Servants of the Paraclete (or Holy Spirit) is a Catholic order founded at Jemez Springs, New Mexico, in 1947. Its founder, Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald, had made his way from Boston to the arid Southwest before creating an order to serve troubled priests. Pledged to offer sound holistic programs for a wide range of physical and emotional problems, the Paraclete order describes itself as the M.A.S.H. unit of the Catholic Church, claiming a spotless success record. In 1986, Dr. Jay Feierman, a Paraclete spokesman, informed the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, that Our recidivism rate for behavior which would be considered criminal is zero percent to the best of our knowledge.

Critics maintain that the orders knowledge is sadly deficient. Besides Father Porter, Paraclete graduates sent back to work with a clean bill of health include imprisoned priests David Holley (275 years for molesting children in New Mexico) and Jason Sigler (jailed in Canada). New Mexico attorney Bruce Pasternak, with 39 civil actions filed against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and various pedophile priests on behalf of their victims, describes the Paraclete center at Jemez Springs as a pervert pipeline employed by the church to obstruct justice in cases of child molestation. Just as New Mexico is the nuclear waste dumping ground of the United States, Pasternak says, it is the ecclesiastical dumping ground of the Catholic Church.

James Porter seemed to do well in the Paraclete program, which was long on rest and prayer but short on therapy. While the Paracletes occasionally dispensed Depo-Provera to suppress sexual appetites, most of the program involved meditation, wilderness experience, and pottery classes, while individual counseling was restricted to one hour per week. What we do here is forgive, one of the Paraclete directors, Father William Perri, told the Rocky Mountain News in 1987. That means sometimes making some very hard decisions because some things are very hard to forgive. Father William Foley, head of the Paraclete order, had a simpler prescription for judging his guests and their progress: We just get an intuition that theyre going to work out.

By July 1967 the Paraclete staff saw real hope for Porters rehabilitation, and he was recommended for a trial basis to say Mass at various churches in New Mexico. Bishop Connolly contributed a letter to the archbishop of Santa Fe, announcing, I cheerfully endorse [Porters] application there. Assigned to fill in for a vacationing priest at Truth-or-Consequences, New Mexico, 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.

Disappointed but still not despairing, the Paracletes sent Porter off to Houston, Texas, on a probationary assignment, but 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. Phillips parish in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Porters new bishop had no clue to the affable priests long record of criminal offenses when Porter arrived in Bemidji. A letter from the Paracletes reported simply that Porter had suffered a nervous breakdown. During the throes of his illness, the letter explained, he did have some moral problems which were, from all appearances, the result of his illness, something for which he was not responsible. Now, having recovered, he gives every sign of having the former problems under control. With that assurance safely filed away, James Porter was unleashed upon another unsuspecting flock.