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; he admitted to sexually abusing at least 100 children of both sexes over a period of 30 years, starting in the 1960s.[1]

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.[2] 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. Porter gained a reputation there as a child molester, but no action was taken against him by the Catholic Church until 1963, by which time at least four parents had complained to his superiors about his inappropriate behavior. Rather than contact the police, however, Church officials moved Porter to a parish in Fall River, where further complaints about his behavior surfaced.[1] In the early 1960s, Porter abused more than 60 North Attleboro children, and nearly 100 in southeastern Massachusetts.[3]

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.[4]

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.[1]

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.[5] He married, and eventually settled in Minnesota. He and his wife had four children. Following Porter's arrest years later, his family revealed that he was often emotionally and physically abusive toward them.[6]


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.[3] 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, which sparked national attention.[3]

The initial ABC News Primetime Live broadcast revealed Porter had abused over 100 children in Massachusetts. Sawyer interviewed 30 adults who had been raped as elementary school children by Porter. The investigation revealed that instead of removing Porter after parents reported the abuse, the Catholic Church had moved him to a treatment center and then to Bemidji, Minnesota, where he continued to rape dozens of children. Primetime Live interviewed 30 of Porter's victims and their parents, and confronted the priest who had knowingly transferred Porter from Massachusetts to Minnesota. They also contacted Porter himself, who still had contact with children as a Sunday school teacher at his church. The ABC News investigation discovered and interviewed a local babysitter who said she had also been sexually abused by Porter in 1984. After the report aired, it was discovered that Porter had also molested the babysitter's younger sister, a crime that was within the statute of limitations. This development allowed local Minnesota authorities to finally arrest Porter. Before Porter's arrest, Sawyer and her producer confronted the former priest at a local carnival.[6]

Arrest and first conviction[edit]

Within weeks of the ABC News broadcast, Porter was arrested, tried and convicted of sexually abusing his children's babysitter.[7] He served four months of a six-month prison sentence before his conviction was overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court.[8]

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

Second conviction and imprisonment[edit]

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. Porter's lawyer struck a plea bargain, and Porter was sentenced to 18–20 years in prison, with the possibility of parole, with counseling, after six years. Parole was consistently denied for several years. He completed his prison sentence in 2004, but was held until his death pending a civil commitment hearing.[1]


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.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

The 1995 Law & Order episode "Bad Faith" and the 2010 Law & Order: UK episode "Confession" were based on Porter's case. His crimes were also referenced in the 2015 film Spotlight.


  1. ^ a b c d e Associated Press (11 February 2005). "Pedophile priest James Porter dies at 70". NBC News. Retrieved 21 January 2017. 
  2. ^ Kurkjian, Stephen; Matchan, Linda (July 29, 1992). "Abuse in the Catholic Church: Ex - priest says Porter abused boys in Revere". Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC. Retrieved May 21, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c Matchan, Linda (August 29, 1993). "Abuse in the Catholic Church: Town secret". Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC. Retrieved May 1, 2016. 
  4. ^ Kurkjian, Stephen; Matchan, Linda (July 24, 1992). "Other abuse by Porter alleged in N.M." Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC. Retrieved August 14, 2018. 
  5. ^ Butterfield, Paul (October 25, 1992). "Paper Says Ex-Priest Admitted Sex Abuse to Pope". The New York Times. New York City: new York Times Company. Retrieved January 21, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Matchan, Linda (June 5, 2002). "'Thank God you didn't have to live with him'". Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts: Boston Globe Media Partners, LLC. Retrieved August 14, 2018. 
  7. ^ Wilkerson, Isabel (December 8, 1992). "Ex-Priest Goes on Trial In Child-Molesting Case". The New York Times. New York City: New York Times Company. Retrieved August 14, 2018. 
  8. ^ STATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. James Robert PORTER, 526 C3 93, 358 (Supreme Court of Minnesota 1995).