Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Father James Porter


Bernard Law (AP)
Bernard Law

It is fair to say...that society has been on a learning curve with regard to the sexual abuse of minors. The Church, too, has been on a learning curve. We have learned, and we will continue to learn. Never was there an effort on my part to shift a problem from one place to the next. It has always been my contention that it is better to know a problem and deal with it than to be kept in ignorance of it... In the final analysis, after we have done all that we humanly can do to ensure that persons who are a threat to children are isolated from them, and after we have done all that we can do to bring some measure of healing psychologically and emotionally to all who have been traumatized by the sexual abuse of minors, it is only the peace which is the gift of the Risen Lord that can quiet our minds and hearts. His is a message of reconciling love, and to the extent that we can accept that message, to that extent we can all find healing.

Cardinal Bernard Law
July 27, 2001

Cardinal Laws denial of complicity in hiding evidence of priestly child abuse was published in the Boston Pilot, Americas oldest Catholic newspaper, as Law himself faced civil litigation from 70 parishioners in the Archdiocese of Boston. Their lawsuit charged that Law deliberately concealed the crimes of a pedophile priestRev. John Geoghanand transferred Geoghan to a new parish in 1985, without notifying police or warning parishioners of Geoghans criminal activities. Cardinal Law has admitted, in court documents, that he knew Father Geoghan had molested seven boys in 1984, but approved Geoghans transfer after an independent medical examination suggested the move would be appropriate and safe.

In fact, it was neither.

On August 17, 2001, Christopher Reardon, a lay worker at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Middleton, Massachusetts, was convicted of molesting 29 boys and sentenced to a prison term of 40 to 50 years. Testimony in that case revealed that Cardinal Laws attorneys had encouraged various parishioners to withhold information from investigators, fearing that the case would prompt new lawsuits against the archdiocese. Despite that sworn evidence, a Pilot editorial of August 24 insisted that The accusations that the cardinal ignored, was indifferent to, or refused to address the scandalous behavior of any priest is, at best, ignorant. The same editorial went on to claim that no one has suffered more than Cardinal Law from priestly sexual abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Boston.

The victims of those crimes, their families and loved ones, are inclined to disagree. They hold church leaders responsible for every case in which child molestation by a priest was concealed from authorities, hushed up with empty promises of counseling and ardent admonitions to protect the good name of the church.

James Porter, 1992 (AP)
James Porter, 1992

Those victims also note that the child-abuse problem in Massachusetts churches did not begin with Father Geoghan or Christopher Reardon in the 1980s. In fact, the archdiocese established its longstanding pattern of denial and concealment twenty years earlier, with the case of Father James Porter. A serial predator who molested at least 125 children of both sexes, claiming victims in five states, Porter was recognized as a problem by his superiors in the early 1960s. Multiple complaints, a criminal arrest, and several confessions from Porter himself failed to prompt any meaningful action. Instead of dismissal and prison, Porter was treated to multiple transfers, vacations, and ineffective spiritual counseling. The end result: a tragedy that shocked the nation when it was revealed, more than three decades after Porter abused his first victim.

This is the story of that tragedy and how it might have been averted at the start, if anyone had cared enough to try.


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