James Porter (Catholic priest)

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James Porter
James Porter.jpg
Born (1935-01-02)January 2, 1935
Revere, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died February 11, 2005(2005-02-11) (aged 70)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation Defrocked priest
Criminal penalty 20 years imprisonment
Criminal status Deceased
Conviction(s) Child sexual abuse

James Porter (January 2, 1935 – February 11, 2005) was a Roman Catholic priest who was convicted of molesting 28 children;[1] he admitted to sexually abusing at least 100 children of both sexes over a period of 30 years, starting in the 1960s.[2]

Early life[edit]

Porter started both training for the priesthood and molesting children at a young age; he abused his earliest known victim in 1953, the summer before he entered seminary.[3] He was ordained in 1959 and became a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts.

Porter was assigned to St. Mary's parochial grammar school in North Attleboro, Massachusetts in April 1960 and put in charge of the altar boys. Complaints of sexual abuse, ranging from fondling to rape, quickly surfaced against him, but no action was taken by the Catholic Church.[4] In the early 1960s, more than 60 North Attleboro children were sexually victimized by James Porter, and nearly 100 in southeastern Massachusetts.[5]


In 1964, Porter was arrested for molesting a 13-year-old boy and sent to a mental institution for 13 months. Once released, he was quickly reassigned to another parish, the first of many such reassignments over the years. He was shuffled into two more parishes before more accusations piled up and he was hospitalized again in 1967, this time to a hospital run by fellow priests who practiced holistic psychotherapy upon its patients, many of whom were clergy members suffering from psychological problems. Porter's "problem" was not unique among the hospital's patients; two of them were later imprisoned for abusing, between them, hundreds of children.

Porter was released after a few months, once again declared cured, and given probationary assignments in parishes in Texas, New Mexico and Minnesota, all of which included access to children. Complaints surfaced by the dozen against Porter, but none of them resulted in disciplinary action beyond his being moved from post to post.[4]

In 1973, Porter wrote a letter to Pope Paul VI requesting to be released from the priesthood, in which he admitted molesting children across five states; the Pope granted his request and, in 1974, Porter gave up his collar.[6] He married, and eventually settled in Minnesota. He and his wife had four children.

The season 5 episode of Law & Order Bad Faith was based on his case. Also, his crimes were referenced in the 2015 film "Spotlight".


In 1990, Frank Fitzpatrick went public with accusations that Porter had molested him as a child in the '60s. Over the next two years, Fitzpatrick contacted the state police, the FBI, and the media, resulting in over 200 people coming forward and leveling charges of abuse against Porter. In the early 1960s, more than 60 North Attleboro children were sexually victimized by James Porter, and nearly 100 in Southeastern Massachusetts.[7] In 1992, a series of investigative reports by ABC NEWS producer Grace Kahng on Porter's crimes aired on Primetime Live, hosted by Diane Sawyer, sparked national attention.[1] The initial ABC NEWS Primetime Live broadcast revealed Porter had abused over 100 children from Massachusetts. Sawyer interviewed 30 adults who had been raped as elementary school children by James Porter. The investigation revealed that instead of removing Father Porter after parents reported the abuse, the Catholic Church had moved Father Porter to a treatment center and then to Bemidji, Minnesota, where he continued to rape dozens of children. Primetime Live interviewed thirty adults who had been raped and their parents and confronted the priest who had knowingly transferred the child rapist from Massachusetts to Minnesota. ABC NEWS tracked Porter to suburban Minnesota where he was married and raising four children as a "stay at home" dad. Porter had left the priesthood but was in constant contact with children serving as a Sunday school teacher at his local church. The ABC News investigation discovered and interviewed a local babysitter who said she had also been sexually abused by Porter. After it aired it was discovered that the babysitter's younger sister had also been molested by James Porter and was within the statute of limitations. This development allowed local MN authorities to finally arrest the prolific child rapist. Before Porter's arrest, Diane Sawyer and her producer confronted the former priest at a local kiddie carnival. Instead of answering questions, Porter who initially tried to flee the cameras suddenly turned and physically attacked the camera crew. After tackling the camera man, Porter fled on foot.

Within weeks of the ABC NEWS broadcast, Porter was arrested, tried and convicted of sexually abusing his children's babysitter in 1984. He served four months of a six-month prison sentence before his conviction was overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court.[1]

The Porter case caused a national outcry and U.S. Conference of Bishops adopted new guidelines for handling priests charged with child molestation.

By 1993, dozens of lawsuits had cropped up against Porter in Minnesota, Texas and New Mexico; in Minnesota alone, he was charged with over 200 counts of sexual abuse.[4] Porter's lawyer struck a plea bargain, and Porter was sentenced to 18–20 years in prison, with possibility of parole, with counseling, after six years. Parole was consistently denied for several years.


Porter died February 11, 2005, of cancer at New England Medical Center in Boston, where he had been transferred the month before from a Massachusetts hospital. He had finished his prison sentence in 2004, but was being held pending a civil commitment hearing.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Boston Globe (13 April 2004). "Victims testify of Porter assaults". Boston. Retrieved 1 May 2016. 
  2. ^ a b NBC (11 February 2005). "Pedophile priest James Porter dies at 70". Retrieved 1 May 2016. 
  3. ^ Kurkjian, Stephen; Matchan, Linda (29 July 1992). "Abuse in the Catholic Church: Ex - priest says Porter abused boys in Revere". Boston Globe. Boston. Retrieved 1 May 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c Newton, Michael. "Father James Porter: Pedophile Priest. TruTV. Retrieved October 30, 2011.
  5. ^ Matchan, Linda (29 August 1993). "Abuse in the Catholic Church: Town secret". Boston Globe. Boston. Retrieved 1 May 2016. 
  6. ^ Butterfield, Fox. "Paper Says Ex-Priest Admitted Sex Abuse to Pope" The New York Times October 25, 1992.
  7. ^ "Boston Globe / Spotlight / Abuse in the Catholic Church". www.boston.com. Retrieved 2016-02-17.