We like our evildoers to be purely evil, and our victims to be purely good. Victim’s advocates deal with the reality that bad things happen to people who are not perfect, and that people who seem real nice can do bad things. The craving for a pure narrative of good vs bad gets in the way of stopping and fighting crime and injustice.
It’s was in the 90’s that I went to an art show sponsored by Day One, formerly the Rape Crisis Center. This is the kind of organization that is disparaged as ‘feminazis’ by hate radio and as victimology by pundits like Camille Paglia and Katie Roiphe. It was at the old School One gallery that paintings and other art were on display and survivors spoke of the effect sexual abuse had on their lives. One of the artists was Frank Fitzpatrick, who had composed a piece of music that incorporated a secretly taped phone call with James Porter, the man who as a priest had molested him decades ago. I still remember the recording of Porter laughing as he admitted what he had done. Frank Fitzpatrick pursued justice for a crime that church and state wanted to bury, and by his courage saved other children from a man who was dangerous for as long as he was at large.
Part of the reason Porter got away with his crimes for so long was the complicity of the Catholic Church leadership, who helped Porter move from parish to parish when the truth threatened to come out. Part of the reason is that law enforcement is politically entangled, and no one wants to provoke powerful institutions. Part of the reason criminals like Porter can hide in plain sight is that to adults they are nice old guys, and they choose their victims well. If the child has some trouble, or is afraid of getting into trouble, they can be intimidated into silence. It’s easy to make a child think they are to blame, and if the message they are getting is that some victims are ‘asking for it’, then society is complicit as well.
There’s the kind of wild-eyed maniacs who jump out of alleys, and they are scary. But more common is the criminal who acts pretty normal most of the time and is only dangerous to some people some times. As long as we expect bad guys to wear horns and victims to wear halos, these abusers will continue to find it easy to hide in plain sight.
The Attleboro Sun-Chronicle recently interviewed one of the former victims who came forward to speak truth to power, 2010 Republican candidate for governor, John Robitaille–
Father Porter: Remembering the evil
Mr.Robitaille is a survivor of James Porter’s predations on children. His testimony may help other adult survivors and stand as a warning against the complacency and willful blindness that allowed these crimes to go unpunished for so long.
One thought on “A Nice Old Guy”
As a non-believer this whole topic reminds me how religion abuses its privileged position. The decades-long coverup of pedophile priests and worldwide child abuse without accountability is mostly unimaginable in any non-religous instituion. No way public school systems, or even child-care facilities could get away with this so long.
And its not just the Catholic Church. Though newpaopers are still often reluctant to point out the religous connections, there are Islam-based outrages, plenty of rogue evangelic pastors (see Elmer Gantry!) and the NY Times just reported on child abuse in Brooklyn’s ultra-orthodox Jewish world, crimes covered up by the community because the rabbis say to do so.
Its time religion, and religous leaders, were treated by the law, the media, the police, and the public just as any other person or institution with regard to such matters. Perhaps even held to a higher standard as they get all these tax breaks, and their business plan – give me your money on Earth in exchange for rewards after death – is ripe for abuse.