Father James Porter
Church leaders in Massachusetts could no longer claim ignorance of Father Porters crimes - but knowledge was still a far cry from action. In March 1964, Monsignor Humberto Medeiros - later cardinal and archbishop of Boston - admitted to Bishop Connolly that Porter had molested 30 or 40 children during his years at St. Marys. (Some published estimates place the number at more than 100.) Still, no action was taken, until Porter embarrassed the church with his arrest for molesting a 13-year-old boy in New Hampshire. State police obliged the church by escorting Porter to the Massachusetts border and setting him free. Bishop Connolly, for his part, made a note in Porters file that the latest victim was a non-Cath, suggesting that church influence might be unable to bury the case.
Reluctantly, the church delivered Father Porter to Wiswall Hospital in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in care of Dr. Norris Flanagan. Over the next thirteen months, Porter received a series of electroconvulsive (shock) treatments at Wiswall, applied in an effort to cure his condition. Officially introduced in 1938, 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 prove fatal. Some patients who survive the treatment complain of permanent memory loss or unexpected changes in their personalities.
James Porter emerged from his course of treatment without apparent ill effects. Dr. Flanagan reported, in September 1965, that Porter had simmered down enough for reassignment to normal parish duties. Porter seconded that finding in a letter to Bishop Connolly, declaring: 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.
Bishop Connolly took Porters cure at face value and forgave his prior transgressions, assigning Porter to Sacred Heart Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts - some 15 miles from the scene of his original crimes at St. Marys. Fathers Duffy and ODea, at Sacred Heart, were warned by their monsignor that Porter had a problem with little boys, but no special precautions were taken to isolate him from children. Assigned as a chaplain at St. Lukes Hospital, Porter was an extra priest at Sacred Heart, left with plenty of spare time on his hands. He used much of that time molesting children - and again, complaints began to multiply.
Church officials did their best to ignore Porters crimes in New Bedford, but 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 Porters in a nearby parish invited Porter to join his church. Porter gladly agreed - and soon began molesting children there, as well.
By April 1967 it was deemed that he had 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, headquartered in New Mexico. If nothing else, the change of scene would help convince parishioners in Massachusetts that Porter was finally out of their lives.