The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
August 4, 2003
Dear Archbishop O'Malley:
We are writing about the very troubling case of Fr. Donald J. Bowen (see Boston Globe, 7/26/03).
We were disturbed by the news that after having been removed from service in the Fall River diocese, this priest spent thirty years in a Third World country with complete access to children. Knowing that child molesters are repeat offenders, we have grave concerns about the safety of the children in Bolivia that he has come in contact with.
It is, of course, very difficult for a molested child to understand that he or she has been severely hurt, and to speak up, get therapy and family support, expose his or her abuser, and endure the trauma of criminal or civil justice proceedings. How much more difficult is it for a youngster in a heavily Catholic Third World nation where clergy are held in even higher esteem than here in the U.S.?
It appears that the responsibility for keeping Fr. Bowen away from children got watered down at every step along the supervision ladder, until, finally, no information about his sexual abuse and rape of a minor reached his supervisor in Bolivia. This is simply unacceptable.
Exactly what was said in the 1994 conversation between you and Father Bowen's supervisor, Rev. Gabriel Troy, will never be known. But regardless of what was said then, the more important issue is: what will be done now? It seems that the approach of most bishops is to sit back and wait for victims to call. What we really need is a "shepherd" who is willing to go out looking for his "lost sheep."
What will be done to reach out to other men and women in the Fall River diocese who may have been hurt by Father Bowen? Even more important, what will be done to reach out to potential victims in Bolivia, where he lived and worked for three decades?
Notices in parish bulletins encouraging other victims to come forward would be a start in Fall River. Insisting that the St. James Society reach out to the faithful in the 25 remote Bolivian villages where Fr. Bowen worked, alerting them to the accusations against Bowen and again encouraging other possible victims to come forward is also warranted. This could save abused Bolivian children from decades of shame and silence.
"I thought someone else was taking care of that" is not a good response or defense in any situation. It is a particularly inadequate and disappointing when the subject is the sexual abuse of children and the speaker is a bishop. One conversation rarely is enough to ensure that your mail delivery is stopped during vacation. How could one conversation about a child-molesting priest possibly assure you about a matter of such grave importance?
We want you to succeed at your new mission in Boston. We want to give you every benefit of the doubt. We also want you to treat sexual abuse with the seriousness it warrants. But your handling of this case is very troublesome to us. A genuine and thorough effort to contact and help potential Bowen victims here in Massachusetts and in South America will go a long way in convincing us that you are sincere.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
Bill Gately 508-743-0297
New England Coordinators of SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests