Ex-priest gets 18 years for molesting 28 youths

December 07, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. -- One victim read from Dante, recalling that the final circle of Hell was reserved for perpetrators of the most heinous sin of all, betrayal.

Another called his abuser "a useless piece of human excrement" and insisted that only public castration could suitably punish the one-time priest who molested him as a child.

After hearing 22 men and women describe their pain and anger in similarly impassioned statements yesterday, Superior Court Judge Robert L. Steadman sentenced former Roman Catholic priest James Porter to concurrent sentences of 18 to 20 years at a Massachusetts prison.

Porter pleaded guilty Oct. 4 to 41 counts of sexual abuse involving 28 youths between 1961 and 1967 at five parishes in southeastern Massachusetts. He is expected to serve at least 12 years.

More than 100 victims of the former priest reached a civil agreement with the local archdiocese in 1992. Porter's case offers the largest example of clerical sexual abuse -- or abuse by any individual -- in American judicial history.

In the courtroom yesterday, his accusers confronted Porter with glowers, sneers and memories of sexual molestation that occurred three decades ago.

"We were pals, we were buddies," 42-year-old Peter Calderone said of his days as one of Porter's altar boys -- and also, as one of his sexual abuse victims.

"And you, James Porter, you made me promise I wouldn't tell. But I lied. I've told everybody. And you need to be punished."

In the same courtroom where, a century earlier, Lizzie Borden was acquitted of murdering her parents, the 58-year-old former priest sat impassively through the unusually long parade of victims' statements.

Alternately sinking his head in his hands and twiddling his thumbs, Porter displayed emotion only when the prospect of being separated from his own four children was raised by his attorney, Peter DeGelleke, in a plea for judicial leniency.

"There is no dispute that this defendant caused terrible harm by his actions in the 1960s," he said.

But Mr. DeGelleke wanted the court to know that in the ensuing 30 years, Porter had raised "a functional, productive and loving family," with one daughter scoring particularly high on recent scholastic aptitude tests.

Porter himself rose and tearfully gestured to his wife sitting nearby. "I fear for my family," he said. "I really believe they need me near them."

He added: "I deserve to be punished, but they don't."

Judge Steadman, however, lambasted Porter for his "outrageous conduct and "complete disregard of the physical, spiritual and psychological impact" he had on his victims. He called Porter "an effigy, representing all the other named and unnamed child abusers."

As part of his 10-year probation, the judge also ordered Porter to "participate in and follow through with programs designed to treat and control his pedophilia."

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