Ex-altar boy: Porter abused me in church, and hospital hallway

Boston Herald/April 13, 2004
By Jessica Heslam

As an altar boy in New Bedford, Thomas Kulas was raped in a church dressing room and molested in his hospital bed by convicted pedophile priest James Porter.

After Mass at St. James Parish, Kulas said he would run down to the basement, where he'd hide in a closet and pray that Porter wouldn't find him.

"Your heart's pounding and you're praying that the door you're hiding in isn't going to open,'' the 52-year-old Kulas testified yesterday at Taunton Superior Court.

Another time, as Kulas recovered from pneumonia in a bed in a hospital hallway, he said he was molested by Porter even as people passed by.

"I became deathly afraid of him. He struck the fear of God in me,'' said Kulas, who gave permission for his name to be published.

In an emotionally charged courtroom yesterday, Kulas and four other men recalled how Porter molested them in the 1960s.

In 1993, Porter was sentenced after pleading guilty to molesting 28 Massachusetts children. His prison term is up but prosecutors want to keep the 69-year-old Porter locked up as a sexually dangerous person. Porter's attorney says he's no longer dangerous.

At first, like many victims, one former North Attleboro altar boy thought the young, popular, sports-loving Porter was the "greatest thing to ever happen to St. Mary's'' Parish.

But that initial image soon shattered.

The former altar boy said he could feel Porter's breath on his neck as he molested him in the church rectory. When the boy returned to his school classroom, he could still smell Porter's body odor and cigarettes.

"The day had started so well . . . everything had fallen apart,'' the man said as his voice trembled.

Each victim recalled how the sexual abuse would often begin with Porter "wrestling'' with them.

"This guy probably wrestled more than any guy in the WWF,'' said another former altar boy who said Porter held him down by the throat and molested him.

"I was fighting like heck to get away,'' said the man, who broke free and ran into the schoolyard, where he screamed. His father then asked him about Porter.

"Dad, I can't keep this guy away from me,'' recalled the man, who said Porter was removed from St. Mary's Parish. Porter was moved to seven more churches across the country before he was forced to leave the priesthood.

The victims also testified about the lifetime of pain and suffering that followed the traumatic abuse. Kulas, who is now a substance abuse counselor, turned to drugs and booze to "forget,''ran away and dealt with anger issues.

"If I can spare one kid this baggage . . . I don't know what my life would have been like had this not occurred,'' Kulas said.

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