Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Father James Porter

Denial

Frank Fitzpatrick was a 39-year-old man with problems in summer 1989. Since his college days - at Holy Cross, in Worcester, Massachusetts Fitzpatrick had suffered from fears that he might be a latent homosexual. The feeling haunted him, although to the best of his knowledge Fitzpatrick had never engaged in a same - sex liaison. Frank confessed the gay feelings to his wife in 1986 and sought counseling, but the source of his brooding depression remained obscure - until September 1989.

Suddenly, as if a veil had lifted, Fitzpatrick remembered the abuse he had suffered almost thirty years earlier, inflicted by Father James Porter at St. Marys Grammar School. One occasion stood out with particular clarity: a visit to the home of Porters parents in Revere, where the priest had drugged Fitzpatrick prior to sodomizing him. In terrifying flashbacks, the Porters white house was clearly visible to Frank, a mockery of innocence betrayed as sinister as the clerical collar worn by his rapist.

In an era when recovered memories were often dismissed as products of false memory syndrome, Fitzpatrick sought to validate his recollections by contacting Porter directly. He first approached a priest at St. Marys, seeking Porters whereabouts, then wrote to Bishop Daniel Cronin at the priests suggestion. In response to his letter, Fitzpatrick received a telephone call from Chancellor Monsignor Oliveira, who was less than helpful. Asked for Porters address, date of birth, Social Security number - even his middle initial - Oliveira replied that he didnt have any of that. Maybe its a sign, the monsignor suggested, referring to his own empty files. Maybe it would be best to leave it in the hands of the Lord.

If church leaders thought they could sidetrack Fitzpatrick that easily, they were mistaken. A licensed private detective, Fitzpatrick next searched for Porter as he would for any other missing person. His first step was to contact former students from St. Marys, recounting his story of sexual abuse. Fitzpatrick never asked his classmates whether they had been molested, but one after another soon related horror stories of their own. Most bore the scars of their trauma: broken marriages, emotional problems and substance abuse. Some were supportive, while others urged Fitzpatrick to let it go and give up his search. In each case he respected their privacy - but the hunt continued.

In November 1989, Fitzpatrick uncovered a newspaper obituary for his quarrys father. It named James Porter as a Minnesota resident, and a computer check of motor vehicle registrations traced him to Oakdale. Porters telephone number was listed in the local directory, but Fitzpatrick made other calls first, to the Oakdale Police Department and Washington Countys Department of Social Services, naming Porter as a lifelong threat to children. FBI agents visited Porters home in December 1989, acting on a tip from Oakdale police, and questioned him about the October 22 disappearance of 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling from St. Joseph, Minnesota. Porter denied any knowledge of the kidnapping (still unsolved), but admitted molesting 30 or 40 children during his years as a priest.

On February 19, 1990, Frank Fitzpatrick placed his first call to Porters home in Oakdale. Verlyne Porter answered the phone, listened silently to Fitzpatricks warnings about her husband, and replied, I dont believe you. Instead of hanging up, she put James on the line and a remarkable conversation ensued, tape-recorded by Fitzpatrick. Alternately laughing and pleading faulty memory, Porter denied any specific recollection of his victims - I dont remember names - but admitted, There could have been quite a few. When asked why he molested children, Porter answered vaguely, I dont know. Who knows? The ex-priest closed with an observation that he was doing marvelous in later life, offering to remember Fitzpatrick in his prayers.

Fitzpatrick called Porter again in September 1990, recording Porters second admission to molesting quite a few victims. Porter also acknowledged that Fitzpatricks memory of being drugged at the house in Revere was probably right. Porter preferred lacing mincemeat pie with sedatives, because it was his personal favorite dessert. That said, he clung to denial in other respects, claiming that he had molested no children since 1967. This time, in closing, Porter stammered through a plea for sympathy: I was just trying to, I mean hoping, you know, youll be, you know, Christian. That you are, you should be, happy how Im turning out, if you know what I mean.

Far from happy, Fitzpatrick addressed a Rhode Island audience the following month, accusing Porter of molesting 30 victims in the early 1960s. Three Providence TV stations reported the speech and more victims came forward, including Fitzpatricks first contact from New Bedford. In December 1990, after taping a third conversation with Porter, Fitzpatrick filed official complaints with the North Attleboro Police Department and the Bristol County district attorneys office. Newspaper advertisements headlined Do You Remember Father Porter? brought more victims forward, including the first women to accuse Porter of molesting them as children. A fourth phone call to Porter, in September 1991, collected more confessions on tape. Now, all that remained was the task of finding a prosecutor who would move against Porter for crimes committed when most of the D.A.s were themselves children.

 

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