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Victims’ group says O’Malley must do more

by Kathleen Durand, Fall River Herald News
August 7, 2003

A spokesman for the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests said it hopes Boston Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley will be proactive in helping victims of sexual abuse.

While the group said it wants O’Malley to succeed in his new post, they also feel for that to happen he has go above and beyond what others have done in the past.

"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," SNAP leaders said.

SNAP sent a letter to O’Malley, who was installed as archbishop on July 30, suggesting that he could reach out to possible victims of the Rev. Donald J. Bowen by putting notices in the bulletins of churches in the Fall River Diocese where Bowen served.

Although the Fall River Diocese is not part of the Boston Archdiocese and O’Malley has no authority over it, Phil Saviano, a spokesman for SNAP, said it wants O’Malley to make arrangements with Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman to have the notices put in the bulletins, particularly at churches where Bowen was assigned.

Bowen was indicted last October on charges of indecent sexual assault and battery on a child under 14 and unnatural and lascivious acts on a child under 16.

According to Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea, Bowen had a seven-year sexual relationship with a girl at St. Mary’s Parish, Norton, from the time she was 9 until she was 16. The alleged crimes occurred some 30 years ago. Bowen pleaded not guilty to the charges and is currently believed to be staying with a friend in Massachusetts while awaiting trial.

"This is a case that goes back to O’Malley’s time," said Saviano, referring to the fact that O’Malley was bishop of Fall River for 10 years. He left Fall River last October to become bishop of Palm Beach. Bowen’s alleged victim settled a lawsuit against the diocese seven months before O’Malley became bishop of Fall River. She reportedly met with O’Malley in 1994 and was satisfied with the way Bowen was being monitored in Bolivia.

Bowen left the Fall River Diocese in 1973 to become a missionary in Bolivia with the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle. But Saviano said Bowen was still a priest of the Fall River Diocese while he was in Bolivia and O’Malley was his supervisor.

SNAP wants the notices in the church bulletins to encourage any other Bowen victims to come forward. It also wants O’Malley to insist that the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle "reach out to the faithful in the 25 remote Bolivian villages where Father Bowen worked, alerting them to the accusations against Bowen and again encouraging other possible victims to come forward."

Saviano, who said O’Malley probably received the letter Wednesday, said it was also a way for SNAP to make initial contact with O’Malley.

During the homily at his installation Mass last week, O’Malley apologized for the way the church mishandled the sexual abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese, asked the victims and their families for forgiveness and assured them the church is working to create a safe environment for young people.

"If he wants to assist the victims, he has to find out who they are," Saviano said. "Child molesters tend to have more than one victim."

Saviano said SNAP is hopeful that O’Malley will demonstrate that he meant what he said in the homily and is proactive in assisting victims.

The state’s statute of limitations did not apply in Bowen’s case because Bowen left Massachusetts. Unlike some other priests who have been accused of molesting children years ago, Saviano said Bowen is someone who can be prosecuted and, "It can only help the prosecutor and everyone if other victims come forward."

The letter from SNAP was signed by Ann Hagan Webb and Bill Gately, New England coordinators.

They stated that they were disturbed to learn that after being removed from service in the Fall River Diocese in 1973, Bowen spent 30 years "in a Third World country with complete access to children."

Webb and Gately said it appears that the responsibility for keeping 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."

John Kearns, a spokesman for the Fall River Diocese, said O’Malley was told by Bowen’s supervisors in Bolivia that Bowen would have no contact with children.

Regardless of what was said in a 1994 conversation between O’Malley and the Rev. Gabriel Troy, Bowen’s supervisor, the SNAP leaders stated, "the more important issue is: what will be done now?"

Webb and Gately asked, "How could one conversation about a child-molesting priest possibly assure you about a matter of such grave importance?"

They said they want O’Malley to succeed at his new mission in Boston and they want to give him every benefit of the doubt.

"We also want you to treat sexual abuse with the seriousness it warrants," they stated. "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."

Kathleen Durand may be reached at [email protected]

©The Herald News 2003

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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests