Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Father James Porter


In retrospect, it seems obvious that James R. Porter never should have been a priest. A calling that demands not only a moral life beyond reproach, but also a vow of lifelong chastity. It is a strict approach to life that has defeated better men, but Porter clearly had no intention of curbing his desire for children of both sexes and all ages. It appears, with hindsight, that he may have chosen his profession with an eye toward having victims readily at hand.

A native of Revere, Massachusetts, born on January 2, 1935, James Porter grew up seemingly devoted to the Catholic Church, proud of his choice to be a priest. The dark side of his personality was well hidden from family and friends. It is impossible to say when he began molesting children, but his first known victim was a 12-year-old boy abused at a church camp in 1953, the summer before Porter entered St. Marys Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. Between 1956 and 1960, working summers at church-run Cathedral Camp in East Freetown, Massachusetts, Porter molested more victims (including one boy who later became an FBI agent). In 1958, a year before his ordination, Porter fondled the genitals of a sixth grader whom he was driving home from a sporting event.

If church officials were aware of those transgressions, they withheld the information and ordained Porter with the rest of his class, assigning him in April 1960 to St. Marys Church and its parochial grammar school in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. From his first day on the job, his parishioners knew Father Porter as a lover of children. He taught the parish boys to pitch curve balls and treated his altar boys to rides at a nearby amusement park. He organized sports programs and a childrens choir at St. Marys. After hours, he took groups of children to the beach, to Cathedral Camp, and to basketball games in Boston. His youthful enthusiasm inspired young and old parishioners alike - until the first complaints began.

There was a different side to Porter, however, revealed to the children alone. Within a week of his arrival in North Attleboro, Porter claimed his first victim in the person of Paul Merry, a fifth-grade student and prospective altar boy who lived next door to St. Marys. Luring Merry into his quarters with an offer of cake and soda, Porter then requested a massage, complaining that he was stiff from moving furniture. Moments later, he dropped his pants and placed Merrys hand on his groin while fondling the boys genitals - a ritual that continued at least once a week for the next three years. Porters first female victim at St. Marys was another fifth-grader, Patty Poirer. Again he asked for help - this time in preparing a basketball roster - then fondled the 10-year-old girl in his office, the first of countless groping attacks she endured in classrooms and hallways for years to come.

In short order, dozens of children endured similar fates at Porters hands. Most were fondled at first, repeatedly, but Porter soon grew bolder, graduating to forcible rape and sodomy. When I would scream, Daniel Lyons recalled, years later, he would put his hand over my mouth so no one could hear me. An 11-year-old girl caught Porter raping a six-year-old in a bathroom at St. Marys Grammar School and sought to intervene. I tried to stop him, she reports, but he grabbed me and sodomized me. He was absolutely violent. He told me he was stronger than me and that he had the power of God.

A practical joker by temperament, Porter seemed to enjoy making a twisted game of his crimes. Children were often molested in their own bedrooms, when Porter came to say goodnight after dining with their families. On field trips to his Rhode Island beach house, Porter would spend all night roaming from one bedroom to another, attacking several boys in turn. On other occasions, with a group of children in his office, the priest would call a girl to stand on either side of his chair, slipping his hands under their skirts while others stood before his desk, presumably oblivious of the assaults in progress. Within a year of his arrival at St. Marys, a cry of Father Porters coming! had the power to clear hallways at the parish school, as children fled in fear.

Some children dared to tell, but there was no relief. Cheryl Porter, no relation and herself one of Father Porters victims, once saw the priest standing with his pants unzipped before two altar boys and ran to tell Father Armando Annunziato. Rather than going to investigate, Annunziato shouted, Why are you stirring up trouble? and slammed his door in her face. Speaking next to a nun at the school, Cheryl was forced to stand up in class, confess her lie and apologize for blackening Porters good name.

Father Annunziato, for his part, had personal knowledge of Porters crimes. He had walked in on Porter once, while Porter was sodomizing victim John Robitaille, then turned and left the room without a word, closing the door behind him. On another occasion, Annunziato knocked on Porters locked office door while Porter was inside, molesting victim Peter Calderone. Whats going on in there? Annunziato asked, when Porter refused to admit him, but his interest was limited at best. Rather than forcing entry, Annunziato simply told Porter, Its getting late, time for everyone to go home, and left him to continue his assault.

Porter eventually claimed more than three dozen victims at St. Marys, most abused repeatedly, before his luck ran out. Parents eventually learned of his crimes, but even then the church defended Porter. An angry mother confronted Father Annunziato and another priest, Father Booth, telling them, Theres no way Im going to take communion from that mans dirty hands. The two priests tried appeasement, then turned angry, Father Booth shouting, What are you trying to do, crucify the man? Complaints multiplied over the next few months, until leaders of the Fall River Diocese assured parishioner Henry Viens - uncle of male victim Peter Calderone - that Porter would be placed in counseling.

It was the first of many lies.

In fact, Fall Rivers Bishop James Connolly sent Porter home to his parents with orders to contemplate and pray for the forgiveness of his sins.

Father Porter obeyed, but he did not reform.