Bemidji woman files suit against the Diocese of Crookston, alleges abuse by Rev. James Porter
BEMIDJI — As Jim Grimm stood on the sidewalk in front of St. Philip’s Catholic School Monday, two silent and unmoving faces stared back in photo form.
One, a young girl with a gap-toothed grin, neatly cut brunette hair and a red and white polka dot dress, and the second, an elderly man with glasses and a tan sweater.
The man was Rev. James Porter, a priest who molested Grimm and at least 20 other boys — then students at the school — in 1969-70. The girl, now a woman in her 50s living in the Bemidji area, is “Jane Doe 4,” who filed a lawsuit against Porter’s former employer, the Diocese of Crookston, last week.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney who represented Grimm in the first round of lawsuits against the diocese 21 years ago, has been filing lawsuits on behalf of victims thanks to the Child Victims Act, signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton in May.
Anderson represents Jane Doe 4.
“They have a legal and moral obligation” to release internal files on priests suspected of abuse, Anderson said of the Diocese of Crookston.
Last week's lawsuit demands the release of the files, which were compiled by the diocese in 2002, according to Anderson. If the diocese fails to comply, Anderson will seek a court order requiring the dispensation of the documents.
“They’ve yet to expose the names of all suspected offenders,” he said. “They know who have committed crimes like Porter.”
Along with Crookston, the Diocese of Fall River, Mass. and the Servants of the Paraclete, Jemez Springs, N.M., were named as defendants. The latter was described in Nov., 1993 by The Associated Press as a “treatment center for wayward priests,” where Porter was treated for pedophilia.
The center agreed to pay more than $8 million that year to victims in New Mexico and Minnesota. The total amount of money paid by the Massachusetts diocese is unclear, but the AP reported in December 1993 that at least $5 million had been doled out to 68 victims the previous year.
Grimm said he knows the woman who filed suit. Her name will remain unreported thanks to the anonymity granted by the law. She is the first female alleged Porter victim from Bemidji. Porter served six months in jail for molesting a female babysitter in 1981. That crime took place in the Oakdale home Porter shared with his wife, Verylne, and their four children.
“What I know about her life is it’s been very tough," Grimm said of the alleged victim in last week’s lawsuit. “What it basically ends up being is post traumatic stress disorder. I actually got my memory back when I read about (James Porter) in the paper. I actually passed out.”
Grimm said the woman, who was 9-years-old at the time Anderson said Porter molested her, “repressed” the memory of the abuse, and learned of it after seeking treatment and undergoing hypnosis.
“You know something’s wrong but you don’t know what it is,” Grimm said of his experience following abuse at the hands of Porter. “It paralyzes you at times.”
The Diocese of Crookston did not immediately return a call for comment, but in a letter handed out to St. Philip’s parishioners on Saturday and obtained by The Pioneer, Rev. Don Braukmann wrote that his “first concern as a priest and our first concern as a Body of Christ remains with all those who are reaching out for help to deal with abuse of any kind.” Braukmann asked members of the church to “pray for healing and peace for everyone involved.”
Grimm, 55-years-old now and still living Bemidji, stressed the importance of the law, which does away for three years with the statute of limitations preventing victims from filing suit after the age of 24. And he railed against the juxtaposition of the religious teachings of the Catholic Church, and what he said was a system that protected offenders.
“The reality is this has nothing to do with religion, this has nothing to do with Christ or what he taught. I would like to see the church clean up, because I believe there’s a lot of good things that they do. But you can’t do the things that they do on the negative side, and set yourself up as an example to the world, when you’re harming the most defenseless people,” he said. “There’s no logic in that at all.”