First lawsuit filed under child victims act - More cases may come against former Bemidji priest
By Justin Glawe / Bemidji Pioneer
BEMIDJI — The first lawsuit born of the Minnesota Child Victims Act was filed Wednesday, and the lawyer representing “John Doe 1” in the case said more suits will be filed against James Porter, a priest who worked in Bemidji and admitted to abusing more than 100 children across the country from 1960-73.
The bill, signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton on May 9, provides a three-year window for victims of past abuse to have their day in court. After the window closes, victims must abide by the original statute of limitations, which requires them to file suit before they reach age 25.
In 1992, Jeff Anderson, of Anderson and Associates in St. Paul, represented 15 victims from the Bemidji area who came forward with allegations against Porter — a priest at St. Philip’s Catholic Church from 1969-70.
“There will be more Porter cases,” Anderson told The Bemidji Pioneer on Wednesday.
The suit filed by Anderson on Wednesday named the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the Diocese of Winona and Father Thomas Adamson as defendants.
Adamson’s alleged criminal history appears to mirror the treatment Porter received from church officials. Anderson called Adamson “an admitted offender” who was granted asylum by the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, and who, like Porter, was transferred from one church to another.
Porter served parishes in four states, including Minnesota. Between 1958 and 1985 Adamson worked at churches in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the Diocese of Winona. The transfers came after “repeated reports of abuse” were made against Adamson.
Anderson’s case seeks an injunction that would force the archdiocese and the diocese to release a list of priests who “had credible complaints of sexual abuse made against them,” a press release stated. In addition to Adamson, the list includes 46 other priests, Anderson said.
“As of 2004, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, there were 33 priests on their list and in Winona there were 13,” he said. “How many they’ve added since then, we don’t know. What we do know is that kids in the area at risk.”
Donna Dunn, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, expressed the need to get the word out.
“Medical providers, treatment providers, law offices. … everybody should be aware that there’s a gift of three years right here and now, and that time is going to go quickly.”
Porter died in 2005 shortly after serving an 18 to 20 year prison sentence, and was being treated at a Boston area hospital for what his attorney at the time called incurable cancer. As his health deteriorated, Porter’s native state of Massachusetts moved to define him as a sexually dangerous person and put him behind bars indefinitely.
If Anderson’s assessment that more lawsuits will be filed on behalf of victims in the Bemidji area is correct, the Diocese of Crookston would be the target and potential defendant. As of 2004, the diocese had paid more than $2.3 million in settlements as a result of Porter’s crimes, according to reports.
In all, 21 Bemidji men sued Porter for abuse carried out here. In addition to those cases, Porter pleaded guilty in 1993 to molesting 28 boys in Massachusetts, and admitted to abusing more than 100 children during his 13-year career. Allegations of abuse followed him as he was transferred to parishes in various states that included New Mexico, Texas and Massachusetts.
Porter represented the first wave of admitted pedophiles allegedly protected by officials in the Roman Catholic Church. He also preceded by a decade the nationwide scandal of child sexual abuse in the church that came partly as a result of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of criminal charges levied against five priests.
“I know for 17 years I have been having to tell people ‘there’s nothing we can do because of the statute of limitations,’” Anderson said. “We have no way of knowing how many (victims) there are. What we do know is there’s now a chance to get them help and expose the offenders.”