Fall River Resources – October 2002
By Steve Urbon
As criticism of the district attorney's actions in the church sexual abuse cases mounted, a former Bristol County priest pleaded not guilty in Superior Court yesterday to charges that he sexually assaulted a young girl in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Rev. Donald J. Bowen was released on $100 personal recognizance by Judge David McLaughlin after the priest voluntarily flew back from Bolivia to appear in court. The Rev. Bowen, who once served parishes in Attleboro and Norton, has been on missionary work for 30 years -- stopping the clock on the statute of limitations, which enabled the prosecution to file charges based on decades-old incidents.
[Photo Caption - With court officer Wayne Cathcart, left, by his side, the Rev. Donald Brown pleads not guilty to two counts of sexual assault in Bristol County Superior Court yesterday. Jack Iddon/The Standard-Times]
Gray and balding, the stern-faced Rev. Bowen, 64, appeared in court wearing a blue windbreaker, a yellow shirt open at the collar, khaki pants, loafers -- and handcuffs. He spoke clearly when he twice said, "not guilty" to the charges , but otherwise did not speak either before or after his arraignment. A group of about a half-dozen supporters also left the courthouse without comment to reporters. Another man wearing religious jewelry, who appeared to be in his 60s, watched the proceedings and said only that he was a friend of Rev. Bowen.
The priest left the courthouse in a vehicle driven by his attorney, Peter Muse of Boston, an old friend of the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea.
In court, Mr. Shea sketched out the case against Rev. Bowen. He said the priest won the confidence of the victim's household: "He was a friend of the family," he said, "and then developed a sexual relationship with the victim" from the time she was 9 until age 16. Shortly thereafter, he left for his missionary work with the Boston-based Society of St. James.
The prosecution asked the court to impose a $5,000 cash bail or $50,000 surety, but the judge was unconvinced that Rev. Bowen posed a flight risk. Instead, Rev. Bowen was ordered to have no contact, direct or indirect, with the victim or her family, and to surrender his passport and report to probation officers. A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Nov. 14.
The priest is the only one of 21 whose names were made public last week by District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr., who expressed anger and frustration at the Diocese of Fall River and Bishop Sean P. O'Malley. He said the diocese had been slow and uncooperative in providing the information about settlements involving those priests, and blamed the delay for his inability to prosecute before the statute of limitations expired.
Initially there was a flurry of praise from victims' lawyers, but that has been followed by a backlash from some of Mr. Walsh's supporters among the local bar.
Kenneth Sullivan, a defense attorney for a half century in Bristol County and now retired, said: "I came away with the firm belief that the due process clause of our Constitution, as dramatic as it may sound, is the bedrock of our society. Whenever there is intrusion for political purposes it is an outrage. And if it isn't political, people should be greatly concerned with what the district attorney understands to be his role."
Former St. Mary's priest pleads innocent to abuse charges
By Eric Convey and Tom Mashberg
Three decades after he left St Mary's Church in Norton for South America, Rev. Donald Bowen is back in the U.S. facing charges he allegedly abused a young Norton girl in the 1960s.
Bowen, 64, pleaded innocent Tuesday to one count indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 and one count of committing an unnatural and lascivious act as the grand jury indictment was read in Bristol Superior Court.
Prosecutors allege Bowen, who also served at St. Patrick's church in Somerset, befriended a Norton family, while serving as St. Mary's associate priest in the 1960s and sexually abused their daughter over a six-year period starting when the girl was 9 years old.
"Having established a relationship with the family of the victim, he established a sexual relationship with the young victim," Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea said.
The abuse allegedly continued until the 1970s when Bowen went to work for the St. James Society, a Boston-based missionary society, in South America. Bowen last worked in Bolivia, before returning to New Bedford this month to face the charges against him.
Even though the reported abuse happened more than 30 years ago, the statute of limitations will not protect Bowen from prosecution because he left the country.
Under state law, the statute freezes when a defendant leaves Massachusetts. Otherwise, a defendant is only prosecutable for up to five years after a crime was committed.
Bowen was released on personal recognizance Tuesday after his lawyer, Peter Muse, argued that bail was unnecessary because the priest had traveled thousands of miles precisely so he could appear in court.
Though her name has not been released, Bowen's alleged victim came out publicly in a local newspaper with her story last April. Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh told reporters this week the indictment was sealed with the victim's willingness to testify.
The Diocese of Fall River settled with the victim for a sum of money in 1992.
Bowen was indicted last week about the same time the Bristol County DA's office released the names of almost two dozen priests listed in church files as potential abusers. Shea said after the arraignment that based on the publication of those names his office has had a number of calls.
"We're investigating every call that we get," he said.
Priest names were news, pure and simple
By Ned Bristol email@example.com or 508-236-0344
The big news out of Bristol County this week was the arraignment of a retired priest on a charge of sexually abusing a young girl. The case happened to be from Norton.
But this priest, Donald Bowen, was just one of 21 present or former Bristol County priests who were identified last week by the district attorney's office as having been accused of sexual misconduct.
None of the other 20 priests were charged, however. Two of the priests were dead; some of the alleged victims didn't want to go to court, and nearly all the cases were too old to prosecute. None of the priests were in active ministry.
It was unusual for the DA, Paul Walsh, to release the names, since normal practice is not to identify people who are investigated but ultimately not charged.
Walsh decided to make an exception, saying the public interest and past church secrecy argued for disclosure of the names. He also said he hoped the publicity would prompt other alleged victims to come forward.
Two newspapers, The Providence Journal and the Standard Times of New Bedford, didn't publish the names out of concern for the rights of the accused.
But other daily newspapers in the region, including The Sun Chronicle and The Boston Globe, did publish the names, according to someone who made a survey.
There were good reasons for doing so, I believe. They have to do with the difference between the media and the government institutions the media covers.
DA Walsh released the priests' names at a news conference attended by numerous media representatives including TV stations. He also posted the names on his Web site, www.bristolda.com, for all the world to see.
The disclosure of the names was a major news event and part of probably the biggest news story of the year, a story with compelling public interest. The names were out in the public domain. It's the media's job to bring the news to the people. We and several other newspapers did that.
This is not to say The Sun Chronicle or the other news organizations agreed with Walsh's decision, only that once the district attorney acted, the media had an obligation to report the news, not censor it.
This is also not to say that any news organization would routinely publish the names of people accused but not charged with a crime. The difference here is the significance of the priest abuse scandal with all its ramifications.
Arguments for and against Walsh were vigorously made during and after his press conference.
The district attorney himself said he felt compelled to act because of an alleged lack of cooperation from the Fall River Diocese, the past protection of accused priests by church secrecy, and the prospect some of the priests could be prosecuted if more victims came forward. (More have, he said this week.)
Walsh also said most of the 49 original victims had won settlements from the church. The priests' names had been provided by the diocese and some of the men had previously been publicly identified when they were removed from active service.
Attorneys for victims of clergy sexual abuse cheered Walsh's action, saying it increased the chances some priests would be brought to justice. They also said Walsh's action buttressed their argument for abolishing the statute of limitations in cases of child rape and molestation.
Opponents, including other district attorneys, said Walsh had ruined the reputation of priests who would have no opportunity to defend themselves and challenge their accusers in court.
Attorneys also said identifying the priests could lead to false accusations by people hoping to get a lucrative settlement from the church.
The district attorneys in Norfolk and Middlesex counties said they did not intend to release the names of priests who were investigated but not charged.
Another district attorney said he could see both sides of the argument. `` It's a real balancing test -- the rights of individuals who have the potential for being accused of a crime but they can't be prosecuted versus the public safety and the right of citizens to know,'' Essex County DA Kevin Burke told the Associated Press. `` It's a real tough call,'' said Burke, who is president of the Massachusetts District Attorney's Association.
The argument over Walsh's actions and his motivations -- he is an elected official -- could go on and on.
The argument over publishing the names, however, seems to me to be cut and dried. This was news in the public interest. It was in the public domain. The people deserved to have it from their local newspaper.
Accused priest lashes out at district attorney
By Steve Urbon
"Guilty until proven guilty." That's the sort of justice that awaits clergy facing sexual abuse charges, in the words of a retired Fall River priest whose name was on a list made public by Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Standard-Times and in written comments, the Rev. John P. Cronin, 71, lashed out at Mr. Walsh, at victims' lawyers, at the press and at diocesan officials. The latter, he maintained, are more interested in disposing of the problem than in seeking justice for the accused.
Bishop Sean P. O'Malley, said the Rev. Cronin, has done a superb job looking after the well-being of victims of clergy abuse even as he shortchanged diocesan priests.
The slightly built, gray-haired priest, wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a dark civilian suit -- he is banned from dressing in priestly garb -- had especially harsh words for Mr. Walsh, who released the names of 20 accused priests whom he cannot prosecute because the statute of limitations has expired.
"It's getting so it seems we want to go back to McCarthyism," the Rev. Cronin said. "We want to go back to lynchings. We want to go back to having cases where everybody in a totalitarian state is supposed to be telling what everybody else is doing."
Mr. Walsh's actions, he said, prompted him to speak out in self-defense -- and he said he chose The Standard-Times, in part, because it did not publish the list of names. He is the only priest on the list who has consented to an interview.
"For whatever reason, Paul Walsh thinks ... it's all right for him to just throw (the accusations) out as a bait to the public to see if some more people won't come forward, hoping that someone will come forward within the statute of limitations," the Rev. Cronin said.
He said that in the charged atmosphere surrounding the abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, priests in the Fall River Diocese are being punished all over again.
"Any system of justice in the civilized world doesn't keep heaping new penalties on same old crimes. You can't say to the guy when five years are up, 'We're going to give you five more.' It's the kind of thing that's been going on. They'll always say it's out of prudence (when) what they mean is, it's public relations purposes."
In the Rev. Cronin's case, three accusers were listed by Mr. Walsh, without details. The priest, who retired last year, said one was a woman who in 1991 approached Bishop Daniel Cronin with an accusation that as a late teenager she had had an inappropriate sexual relationship with the Rev. Cronin.
"The bishop had me in and I went to Connecticut for evaluation and so forth and was found by a psychologist and psychiatrist to be a threat to no one. There was some truth to what she was saying, not exactly as it was, but there was something there," he said without elaborating.
After evaluation in Connecticut -- "day-hopping" back and forth from Massachusetts -- and several visits to an area psychiatrist, the Rev. Cronin said, "They came back with recommendations that there's no kind of problem for any pastoral work. I'm not a pedophile."
"I went (to the psychiatrist) three or four times and he said 'There's no point in this,'" the Rev. Cronin said. For the time, he remained at his post at St. Joseph parish in North Dighton. But when the accuser approached new Bishop O'Malley, in the wake of the James Porter scandal, the bishop called the Rev. Cronin to his office.
"He told me that he was going to remove me from the parish. We argued back and forth a bit about it, but he was insistent, and so we wound up with my being in charge of the cemeteries and also in charge of sick and retired priests," he said.
Bishop Steps In
It didn't end there, however. In the mid-1990s, two more people, a man and a woman, accused the Rev. Cronin over events in the late 1950s and '60s when they were minors, he said. "There was sufficient evidence in both complaints to easily show I could not have done it," he said.
Bishop O'Malley ordered further restrictions on the Rev. Cronin's activities. He could no longer say Mass -- except when at home, alone. He could not wear his clerical collar, which caused him to avoid attending such things as wakes, where people would ask questions. "I came up with excuses all the time," said the Rev. Cronin. "To a certain extent (Paul Walsh), has taken one burden off our shoulders in trying to dodge people with excuses about why we weren't doing things," he said.
"But the real problem with (Bishop O'Malley and diocesan officials) was that even with all that information there to support my case, they wanted no part of that. They were only interested in dealing with the victims. That's been the problem all long. The presumption has always been you're guilty until you're proven guilty, not until you're proven innocent.
"That's the only way to describe the methodology that's been used, unfortunately. It's not here alone. It's been in other places as well," the Rev. Cronin said.
At the time, the Rev. Cronin said he had a civil attorney, but not a canon lawyer. "If you're talking about taking a priest, a canon lawyer in the diocese of Fall River, and expecting him to adequately represent another priest with the bishop, I think there's a tremendous conflict of interest there, so it's very hard."
With pressure from insurance companies to settle claims to avoid costly civil trials, the diocese left priests such as the Rev. Cronin with little recourse, he said.
"So that's generally the route most of these cases have taken, and unfortunately, some of these lawyers -- the ones who specialize in it -- know this very well. It's the easiest cases they ever have to deal with," he said.
"The likes of (attorney Roderick) MacLeish and (Mitchell) Garabedian, they know that stuff inside-out. They know that they don't have to prove a blessed thing. They will never get to the court with it. They will never have their people interrogated nor the documents that they're trying to present.
"You get something like a Geoghan or a Shanley or a few others, where it was a constant going after kid after kid after kid or something, as opposed to somebody falling into something, that's a totally different thing, but that's where the publicity is and somehow the picture is given that all these cases are that way.
"There are no distinctions, whatever happened to them, whether the allegations are true or false, and they have no way of knowing whether they're true. There's no effort at all at. The main thing is, they want peace and quiet, and that's what's come back to haunt them."
"They should have forced lawyers representing complainants to go to trial," the Rev. Cronin said.
A Question of Rights
The Rev. Cronin's own experience as a member of a Bristol County Grand Jury in 1996 sharpened his criticism of Mr. Walsh's decision to reveal the names of priests who cannot be tried in a court of law.
"We were told by the judge we were not to say a word about anything to anyone. We were to protect the rights of the innocent and to their character by not talking about them. And we were to protect the rights of the indicted to a fair trial by not talking about what we had come to know," he said.
The district attorney's hope that more victims will step forward rankled the Rev. Cronin.
"The lawyers are going to get the names of some other people that they may be able to go chase and say, 'Hey, would you like to make some money?'" he said.
"The most self-serving statements ever made are made by lawyers carrying some of these cases. That was obvious the other day. The ones that supported Paul Walsh were the ones hoping to get more names, more money. It's so obvious it's pathetic."
The Rev. Cronin was just as emphatic about the effectiveness of Bishop O'Malley. "No one has been better for the abused persons, whether they were real or imaginary, but especially for those who happened to have really had abuse and a lot of trauma from it. No one has been more compassionate and considerate of them than the bishop has.
"The real problem has been more around the justice area, whether or not complaints were valid or not true, and what kind of system of justice was there for those who were accused," he said.
The Rev. Cronin became a priest in 1957 and served at St. Patrick's Church and St. Vincent's Home, both in Fall River, St. Bernard Church in Assonet, St. Joseph's Church in Taunton, Our Lady of Fatima Church in Swansea, and St. Joseph's Church in North Dighton. In his career, he worked extensively in the care and treatment of children at risk, about which he is proud and defiant in the face of allegations.
The publicity today, he said, "isn't impacting me in the same way
it is impacting some of the men who are a bit younger. But it's still
impacting me. My reputation has been destroyed by this because where there's
smoke there's fire, is what's the impression, naturally. So I figure it's
better for people to know the fire a little better than to have them presume
it's a conflagration," he said. "So that's why I have done this."
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