Priest disputes O'Malley's memory of abuse
Former head of order says ministry continued
By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 7/26/2003
Soon after Fall River Bishop Sean P. O'Malley learned in
1994 that the Rev. Donald J. Bowen, one of his priests on
assignment in Bolivia, had repeatedly molested the under-age
daughter of a parishioner, he says he told the priest's new
supervisor that Bowen must be removed from parish work.
O'Malley, in an interview with the Globe on July 1, the day
he was named Boston's archbishop-elect, said the head of the
Society of St. James The Apostle, a Boston-based missionary
order, assured him that Bowen would be taken out of parish
work and kept away from children.
''They gave me their guarantee,'' O'Malley said. ''That was
the policy and it had to be followed.''
But the former head of the order says O'Malley never made
such a sweeping demand that Bowen be removed from ministry
and that no such guarantee was given or carried out.
The Rev. Gabriel Troy, who led the St. James Society from
1994 and 2000, says he only assured the bishop that Bowen
would not be allowed access to children.
''What was asked was that Father Bowen not be allowed access
to children, and that's what we followed,'' Troy, now pastor
of St. Joseph's Church in Boston's West End, said in an interview
But the limitations on Bowen's access to children may also
have been considerably less stringent than Troy described
-- and O'Malley expected.
Bowen's colleagues in the St. James Society said the priest
continued to carry on his full responsibilities as a priest
in the mountainous region of Bolivia for eight years after
O'Malley said he got the pledge from Troy.
A photograph on the St. James Society website shows Bowen
at a Mass in a Bolivian village, surrounded by both young
people and adults. And a Society promotional film shot in
2001 opens with Bowen saying a Saturday Mass for local Indian
youths in his home church in Caracolla, Bolivia, according
to a priest who arranged for the film to be made and attended
''It was pretty remarkable because it showed Father Bowen
at his best, working with the young as well as old people
in that region,'' said the Rev. Raymond Cowell, who currently
coordinates the acitivies of the seven Society priests who
work in Bolivia. O'Malley was unavailable for comment on the
apparent contradiction between his and Troy's accounts of
the handling of the Bowen matter. However, through the Rev.
Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese,
O'Malley reiterated yesterday that he had been guaranteed
Bowen would be removed from ministry.
''If it didn't happen, then that's something he regrets,''
Cowell said he had no idea, until Bowen was indicted last
September on charges of abusing the young girl, that there
were restrictions on Bowen from saying Mass or ministering
Bowen, 64, who had worked as a priest in Bolivia since 1973,
was unavailable for comment. His lawyer, Peter J. Muse of
Boston and Quincy, did not return phone calls.
Four other priests from the St. James Society who worked
with Bowen in Bolivia confirmed that he continued in full
ministry until he returned to Massachusetts in September 2002
to face indictment on charges of indecent assault and battery
on a child under 14.
The Rev. Joseph Bibby, who served with Bowen in Oruro, Bolivia,
between 1995 and 2000, recalled that Bowen was responsible
for about 25 villages in ''the most remote region'' of Bolivia,
about 120 miles south of La Paz. In addition to his pastoral
responsibilites, Bibby said, Bowen instructed adults from
some villages on Catholic teachings so they could return to
their distant outposts and instruct others. He also set up
a medical center in Oruro, the largest city in his region,
as well as a cooperative for farmers and another one for women
to get them sewing machines to make native shawls for sale.
''He did everything that was expected of him and more both
in and out of the church,'' Bibby said. Bibby, like Cowell,
says he was unaware of the sexual allegations against Bowen
until the indictment.
Bowen's good works in Bolivia were of no concern to O'Malley,
however, once he learned in 1994 that Bowen had been accused
by a woman of fondling and raping her during the late 1960s
and early 1970s when she was growing up in Norton. According
to the later indictment, Bowen befriended a Norton family
while serving at St. Mary's Church as an associate pastor
and sexually abused their daughter over a six-year period
beginning when the girl was 9.
In 1990, after years of emotional distress from the alleged
assaults, the woman, then in her 30s, filed a complaint against
Bowen with the Fall River Diocese. Two years later, in January
1992, the diocese settled the case by paying her $200,000.
In his response to the allegations, Bowen denied having sexual
contact with the girl but acknowledged acting inappropriately
with her, kissing her on a few occasions, embracing her other
times, and writing her letters which led her to believe that
he had fallen in love with her and would leave the ministry
to marry her. ''That the letters exist and were written is
undeniable,'' Bowen wrote to Bishop Daniel A. Cronin, then
head of the Fall River Diocese in 1990 who had asked Bowen
to explain his conduct. ''In the same instant it must also
be admitted that they were childish, senseless, totally irresponsible
and to be deeply regretted for the harm they may have caused.''
Two years after gaining her settlement, the woman decided
to approach the diocese again. She wanted to make sure that
Bowen did not have continued access to children, and she asked
for a meeting with O'Malley who had succeeded Cronin as the
diocese's bishop. O'Malley had already earned praise for his
sympathetic and straightforward dealing with dozens of victims
who had been abused by the Rev. James R. Porter while he was
assigned to several churches in the area during the 1960s.
Beyond settling the cases with the Porter victims, O'Malley
instituted a policy for handling other cases of clergy abuse
that came to his attention.
In his July 1 interview with the Globe, O'Malley said in
his 1994 discussion with Troy, then head of the St. James
Society, that Bowen had to be handled in accordance with his
new policy. Even though Troy remembered the conversation differently,
John Kearns, director of communications for the Fall River
diocese, corroborated O'Malley's account. He said that when
Bowen was indicted last year he spoke with O'Malley about
his handling of the priest. ''He told me that he had received
the Society's guarantee that Father Bowen would be removed
[from ministry] and allowed only to instruct adults on the
catechism and work on a history of the Society,'' Kearns said.
Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 7/26/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.