Woman goes public with abuse claims against notorious priest

Linda Carroll
Linda Carroll, 51, said she hopes going public will encourage other victims to come forward.
Yi-Chin Lee / MPR News

Updated 5:30 p.m.

A Minnesota woman is speaking publicly about sexual abuse she says she suffered at the hands of one of the nation's most notorious predator priests.

Linda Carroll said the Rev. James Porter assaulted her repeatedly in 1969 and 1970 when she was a second-grader at St. Philip's school in Bemidji.

Carroll is suing the Diocese of Crookston, which employed Porter for a short time, claiming the diocese created a public nuisance. She said she hopes going public will encourage other victims to come forward. In her lawsuit, she's known as Jane Doe 24.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

Convicted former Catholic priest James Porter
Convicted former Catholic priest James Porter listens to testimony in Bristol County Superior Court in Taunton, Mass., Wednesday, April 14, 2004.
AP 2004

"You have to put a name and a face to it, because otherwise people don't get it," Carroll said Wednesday during a news conference with St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson. "They see Jane Doe number 24 and it doesn't really mean anything."

In 1993, Porter pleaded guilty in Massachusetts to sexually assaulting 28 children. He died in 2005.

He was accused of sexually abusing more than 100 children during his 14 years as a priest.

After local bishops became aware of sexual abuse allegations against Porter, he rarely spent more than a year in any one place.

In between many of these assignments, he received psychological treatment from the Servants of the Paraclete -- a religious order. In 1969 he moved to a retreat house in Nevis, Minnesota, a small town south of Bemidji.

Despite the mounting allegations, staff at the Paraclete house allowed him to serve Mass at St. Philip in nearby Bemidji, which brought him in contact with children at the church school.

"A couple nights a week, he would bring my brother home from baseball or basketball, and he'd sit and drink coffee with my mom," she said. "Then he would play in our basement with all of us kids, and he pretty much had free reign because he was a priest."

Carroll said she's suffered a lifetime of depression because of the abuse.

Sexual Abuse Press Conference
Linda Carroll, 51, with attorney Jeff Anderson, holds a picture of herself when she was seven years old.
Yi-Chin Lee / MPR News

"I'm here today as a survivor, and no longer a victim. And I want anyone out there who's had to go through this to do something about it, because you're not alone, and there's a lot of people that will help you.

Carroll said her brother, James Grimm, encouraged her to speak out. Grimm went public about his abuse by Porter back in 1992, when Anderson filed some of the first lawsuits related to the priest.

Besides the Diocese of Crookston, the lawsuit also names the Servants of the Paraclete and the Diocese of Fall River Massachusetts.

Anderson said all three defendants were negligent for allowing Porter to have access to children and created a public nuisance by keeping information on abusers secret.

"They have fought hard to keep their secrets, and the names of their offenders both accused and credibly accused and the files," Anderson added. "This suit seeks to disgorge that information, to force them to be transparent and accountable."

The lawsuit claims the Crookston diocese has not publicized the names of five credibly accused priests.

In a statement, Crookston Vicar General Father David Baumgartner noted the diocese did identify the priests.

In January, MPR News reported the names of six, including Porter, that the diocese released.

Anderson said Wednesday afternoon that particular language in the lawsuit is wrong, but still insisted there are other names the diocese has yet to release.

Baumgartner also called the nuisance claim ill-suited to the case because Porter's abuse has been known to the public and police for more than 40 years.

However, MPR News found the allegations against Porter first surfaced just over two decades ago when a victim came forward. By then, Porter was no longer a priest.