Bishop Accountability

Fall River Resources – July 17–31, 2003

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Priest disputes O'Malley's memory of abuse case
Former head of order says ministry continued

By Stephen Kurkjian
Boston Globe, p. B1
July 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 last week.

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 the Mass.

''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,'' Coyne said.

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 to children.

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.

Installation Homily

By Seán P. O’Malley
Reprinted in the Pilot (Boston archdiocesan newspaper)
July 30, 2003

The following homily was delivered by Archbishop Seán Patrick O’Malley, OFM Cap., at his Mass of Installation as the sixth Archbishop of Boston, July 30, 2003, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston.

First of all, I wish to express my gratitude to our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, for the great trust he has placed in me by making me a Bishop nineteen years ago, and now sending me to you as your Archbishop. I wish publicly to express my loyalty and affection to the successor of Saint Peter. We are all pleased that the Holy Father’s personal representative, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, is here with us today. Archbishop, please tell our Holy Father that the Catholics of Boston together with their new Archbishop love him and congratulate him for the 25th anniversary of his Pontificate and we thank him for his magnificent letter on the Rosary. Today in Boston, we too say: “Mary, Totus tuus.”

It is a joy to have so many members of the O’Malley Clan here today. I love you all very much and thank you for your unfailing support for my vocation and ministry.

I welcome the Bishops of New England and other distinguished prelates who are joining us for the ceremony. We greet our public officials and representatives from other churches and faith traditions. With special affection we welcome our Jewish brothers and sisters. I recognize so many friends from the Virgin Islands, Fall River, and Palm Beach. It was a privilege and a joy being your bishop and I thank you for all your kindnesses and friendship.

I welcome my fellow Capuchin friars, Archbishop Charles, my Provincial, and all my brothers in Saint Francis whose love and support have always meant so much to me. After 38 years, being a Franciscan brother is still the great joy of my life. I wish that after so long I were doing it better, but God and my community have not given up on me. Although, when I have been bishop in lovely vacation spots, my Provincial used to say, “O’Malley, when will you get a real job?" Brother Paul, does this count?

And finally, I greet all of you who form part of this great Archdiocese of Boston, priests, deacons, religious, and laity. As your Archbishop, I am your Shepherd, as a friar I am your brother, and I have come to serve you, to wash your feet as Jesus says and to repeat the great commandment: Love one another as Christ loves us. It is His love that binds us together. The immensity of that love is measured by the Cross. Saint Francis was not a learned man, but he had the wisdom of simple believers. He used to say that the Cross was his book. In that book we find the world’s greatest love story. The story of the Shepherd who laid down His life for us, His flock, His friends.

The patron saint of the Archdiocese is Saint Patrick, a great saint indeed. When he returned to Ireland as a missionary bishop, he was preaching in County Mayo where the O’Malleys hail from. A fierce warrior asked to be baptized and received into the Church. Since there were still no Churches in Ireland, they gathered in a great field. A huge crowd arrived to witness the event. Saint Patrick arrived in his bishop’s vestments, his miter and crosier. He stuck his staff in the ground and began to preach a long sermon on the Catholic Faith. The chieftain to be baptized stood in front of Patrick during the sermon. He grew pale, began to sweat profusely and fainted at the saint’s feet. When they rushed over to help him, the people discovered that Saint Patrick had inadvertently stuck his staff through the man’s foot. When they were able to revive the wounded warrior, they asked him why he had not said anything when it happened. He replied that he thought it was part of the ceremony. The poor man did not understand much about the Catholic liturgy, but did know that Discipleship means taking up the Cross.

Discipleship means taking up the Cross. Today this ceremony began with a dramatic gesture. At every installation ceremony the new Bishop is presented with a crucifix at the door, so that he can kiss the cross. This is a gesture we all know as Catholics. On Good Friday, in endless lines Catholics around the world draw near the cross to kiss it. We can never allow that to be an empty gesture. When we kiss the cross, we are kissing God’s love and mercy that is crucified. We are acknowledging that salvation is not a cheap grace, that we are bought at a great price.

Saint Francis wrote in his last Testament about his conversion. He said that he could not stand to see leprosy; but one day God’s grace invaded his heart; and when Francis encountered a leper instead of fleeing to safety, he drew near, embraced the leper and kissed him. On that day Francis truly kissed the cross and his life was changed, because his heart was changed.

Jesus began His public ministry in Nazareth with a liturgy of the word. Even as we saw our lectors draw near the podium this morning to proclaim God’s word, so we might imagine Jesus as lector, taking the scroll and reading from the book of Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me and has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free and proclaim a year of grace.”

Jesus has come to reveal to us the merciful face of the Father. In a world of suffering and violence, of injustice and pain, the love and mercy of our God is manifest to us in Christ. Jesus could indeed say: “Today these words are fulfilled in your hearing.”

When the followers of John the Baptist question our Lord about His identity (Mt. 11) with the question: “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Jesus replied: “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” He has come to reveal the Fathers love and mercy for all, especially those in pain and in want.

We who are His Church are called to carry out these tasks in today’s world. The concept of a preferential love for the poor is not a modern concept. In the Gospels the poor, the sick, the marginalized, are the protagonists, and Jesus defines His mission in terms of being sent to bring glad tidings to such as these. Jesus tells us that he prefers mercy to sacrifice. As God’s pilgrim people, we struggle to advance this mission in spite of our shortcomings.

At the beginning of the new millennium, the Holy Father urged Catholics throughout the world to ask forgiveness for our sins and failings that have obscured the Church’s mission and compromised our efforts to announce the Good News over the centuries.

I dare say, we of the Church in the United States could not have imagined just how important this gesture of asking forgiveness would be for us. Little did we realize the dimensions of the problems that beset us. As Catholics, each time we celebrate Mass we begin by asking forgiveness of our sins. We are sinners and we say that we are sorry. For us Catholics the third millennium has opened with a long penitential rite. And, at the beginning of this installation ceremony, I again ask forgiveness for all the harm done to young people by our clergy, religious or hierarchy.

The whole Catholic community is ashamed and anguished because of the pain and damage inflicted on so many young people and because of our inability and unwillingness to deal with the crime of sexual abuse of minors. To those victims and their families, we beg forgiveness and assure them that the Catholic Church is working to create a safe environment for young people in our Churches, schools and agencies. It must never be business as usual, but rather a firm commitment of every diocese, parish and school to do all we can to avoid the mistakes of the past and create safeguards for the future. Even now, an audit of the compliance of the Charter for the Protection of Children is being done in every diocese. Much has been done, much needs to be done.

Many Catholics feel that it is unfair that national concern on sexual abuse has focused so narrowly on the Catholic Church without a commensurate attempt to address the problem in our contemporary society at large. Yet we can only hope that the bitter medicine we have had to take to remedy our mismanagement of the problem of sexual abuse will prove beneficial to our whole country, making all of us more aware of the dreadful consequences of this crime and more vigilant and effective in eradicating this evil from our midst.

How we ultimately deal with the present crisis in our Church will do much to define us as Catholics of the future. If we do not flee from the cross of pain and humiliation, if we stand firm in who we are and what we stand for, if we work together, hierarchy, priests, religious and laity, to live our faith and fulfill our mission then, we will be a stronger and a holier Church.

This should be of some consolation to those victims who have opened old wounds in their own hearts by coming forward. Your pain will not be in vain if our Church and our nation become a safer place for children. I am pleased that so many victims have come to this installation Mass. The healing of our Church is inexorably bound up with your own healing. You are the wounds on the Body of Christ today. I am sure that many are skeptical and think that the Church leaders are like Simon the Cyrenean who carried the Cross only under duress and not from a genuine desire to help. Perhaps the journey began that way, but what we see in the community of faith is a spirit of repentance and a desire for healing. Despite the understandable anger, protests and litigation, we see you as our brothers and sisters who have been wronged. For this crisis has forced us to focus on what is essential, on Christ, on the saving power of the Cross and our call to follow in His mission to make the loving mercy of our Heavenly Father present in this world.

When our ancestors in the faith built this magnificent temple, they were despised for this religion, their accents, their rough ways. They were the object of ridicule and discrimination, the “Know-nothings” were burning their Churches and convents. They were very familiar with suffering, poverty, and hardship, and rightly named their Cathedral – our Cathedral – for the Lord’s Cross. Today the Church of Boston gathers at the Cross, still stunned from the shame and pain of the Church’s crisis. We come here to ask God to make our suffering redemptive.

We gather here with so many priests, so many good priests, struggling to make sense out of it all. But today I tell you Jesus never promised that nothing would ever go wrong, but yes, He promised to be with us in our darkest hours.

Each of us who are priests will recall that on our ordination day the ordaining Bishop presented us with the paten and chalice and told us: Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mysteries you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.

This must be the program of our life and ministry at the service of God’s holy people, imitating the mysteries we celebrate, imitating Christ’s self-giving, modeling our life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross. This life of sacrificial love can be lived only if nurtured by fidelity to prayer and a priestly fraternity we build by dying to self and bearing one another’s burdens. Our Catholic people love and support our faithful priests. Never forget that serving Christ and our people is worth suffering for. We are all so grateful to our Catholic laity who have been so supportive of their Church during these times of trouble. To those who have stepped away, I invite you to return to help rebuild our Church and carry on the mission Christ entrusted to us.

In Palm Beach, on the first Sunday of Lent, 500 new Catholics came with their sponsors to the Cathedral of Saint Ignatius Loyola for the Rite of Election, as they were joining the Catholic Church. It necessitated having two sessions to accommodate all the candidates and relatives and fellow parishioners who accompanied them. I was so moved that in the midst of the crisis, these men and women could still see something beautiful in the Catholic Church and that their spiritual lives were being nurtured in communities of faith that were helping them find the path to God. These new Catholics understood that despite the sins and failings of priests and bishops, the crimes of Catholics for 2000 years, Christ is with His Church. Jesus is the Bridegroom not the widow. Christ does not exist separate from His spouse, the Church. As Catholics, we place our faith in Him who died and rose to save us. Jesus came to call sinners and He has called us to do His work. It is humbling. And though we live through a sad chapter of the Church’s History, we must recall that it is a chapter not the whole book.

The Catholic Church in the United States has made invaluable contributions to the spiritual and material well being of our country. As Catholics, we have so much to be thankful for, so much to be proud of. As Catholics, we must be proud of the fact that we have educated millions upon millions of Americans in our schools, saving US tax payers many billions of dollars and giving countless children from immigrant and working class families an excellent education. Even today, there are almost three million students in our Catholic schools and colleges; 20% of the hospitals in the country are run by the Church, the largest social service agencies and relief organizations in the land are agencies of the Catholic Church. This is not just a philanthropic enterprise; it is rather an extension of the Christ who opened the book of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth and said: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind and relief for the oppressed.” The followers of Jesus are also anointed – Christian means anointed – anointed to be part of the same mission that is Christ’s – to reveal the face of our loving and merciful Father in heaven.

Once the Archbishop of New York received an intercom call from a new receptionist working in the chancery. She said: “Your Eminence, there is a man in the lobby who says he is Jesus Christ. What should I do?” The Archbishop replied: “Look busy!” Although the Archbishop’s words merit a chuckle, on another level they are dead serious. The homeless schizophrenic man off his meds, who says he is Jesus Christ, is Jesus Christ “in a distressing disguise,” as Mother Teresa used to say.

Jesus is present to us in the least of our brothers and sisters. He is with us in the hungry, the poor, the Alzheimer’s patient, the unborn, and the homeless person with AIDS, all of whom have a claim on our love. He is here where two or three are gathered in His name. Here we recognize Him in the breaking of the Bread and in His Sacraments. We recognize Christ present in His Church. We must not only look busy, we must be busy fulfilling the great command He has given us to carry on His mission.

Even more important than the great education, healthcare and social institutions of the Catholic Church is the mission of the Church to build a community of faith around the Word of God and around the Eucharist. It is in our parishes where we gather around the altar, as Christ’s Body the Church fed by Christ’s Body, the Eucharist, that we find the strength to lead good lives, generous lives, faithful lives. We know that by carrying the Gospel and the Sacraments in the life of the Incarnation, the Church enjoys a culture transforming power, to help bring about a civilization of love. The work of Christ’s Church is the work of salvation: making God’s Kingdom more visible here and now and preparing us for eternal life.

In a community of faith, we learn to worship our God, to forgive one another and to serve those around us. We discover the true dignity of each and every person made in the image and likeness of God. No matter how small the unborn, no matter how debilitated, and unproductive the aged and infirm, we must take care of each other. No one is expendable. Each and every person counts in God’s sight. The Gospel of Life will always be the centerpiece of the Church’s social Gospel.

Where shall we find strength to move ahead, to bring healing and reconciliation, to live out the mission of Jesus to be the face of God’s mercy in the world? We shall find that strength in the shadow of the Cross. Today I invite you to renew with me our baptism commitment to take up the Cross each day and follow Jesus.

When I was a young priest at the Centro Católico in Washington, a Salvadoran refugee came to my office weeping. He handed me a letter to read. It was from his wife berating him for having abandoned her and their eight children. He had come to Washington as the wars raged in his country. He came to send money back for his family. After several months, his wife had not received any of the money he had been sending home, and his family was suffering from hunger and want. He told me how he washed dishes in two restaurants, ate the scraps of food from the dirty dishes rather than spend money on food and walked to work rather than spend money on bus fare. He sent all his earnings to his family each week. I asked if he sent checks or money orders. He said: “I put cash in the envelope and drop it in the blue mail box on the corner.” I looked out the window and saw that blue mail box – spiffy trash bin, part of the District of Columbia’s beautification project. It brought home to me how hard the lot of immigrants is in a strange land. Not knowing the language and customs can cause such a sense of disorientation and alienation.

In the case of the man from El Salvador, his toil was not really futile because it betokened love and selflessness that bound him to his wife and children. But too often people’s quest for success in our culture is misguided – to have lots of money, be good looking and thin, and to be popular. It is not enough. If this is the measuring stick for success – the lock box is just another blue trash bin.

In reflecting on the plight of this campesino, I find a parable for our lives. In great part the man’s problems resulted from not knowing the language and the ways of this land. For us believers, the language of faith is prayer. Prayer is a language that allows us to communicate with our heavenly Father. It is a window that allows light into our life. Some people have forgotten that language. Without prayer we become spiritually disoriented, our relationships suffer, we begin to be isolated, alone, confused and often overwhelmed.

In Novo Millenio Ineunte, Pope John Paul II says that it is a mistake to think that most Christians can get along on a superficial prayer life. Especially in today’s world which tests our faith – such persons become mediocre Christians or Christians at risk. Formation in prayer must become the determining point in every pastoral program. In prayer, we shall discover the primacy of grace and discover that without God we can do nothing. In prayer, we will find the courage to go on, to be faithful, to proclaim the Good News that Our Lord is with us. He is Emanuel. In prayer, we will find the strength to carry out the mission entrusted to us, to walk in humility and love and to practice mercy with all. Saint Ignatius put it so well: We must pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on us.

If we are a praying people, when we gather at the Eucharist, we will know God’s language and be a part of the miracle of self-giving that is the Eucharist. There we will find the strength to make a gift of ourselves to God and to each other. There we shall find the strength to wash one another’s feet and to live the great commandment of love.

On Calvary there were but few people, because it takes courage to stand by the Cross. Today we of the Church of Boston stand before the Cross. We are not alone. From the Cross Jesus gave us his mother: “Behold your Mother”. We Catholics all have a tender love for Our Lady. With her help we will be faithful disciples and will shall be sure: That those who sow in tears, shall reap rejoicing.

(In the words of Saint Francis we pray)
We adore Thee Oh Christ and we bless Thee
Because by Thy Holy Cross Thou
Hast redeemed the World.

Words of Welcome from Archbishop O'Malley
(Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole)

Harto dificil resulta para mí dirigirles un saludo cariñoso a todos los hispanoparlantes sin emocionarme. Pasé la luna de miel de mi ministerio como cura flamante en el Centro Católico de Washington.

El testimonio de la fe inquebrantable de los muchos refugiados huyendo de las guerras fraticidas de América Central, la devoción de los inmigrantes de todas partes de América Latina me afiazaran en mi deseo de servir su comunidad y de indentificarme plenamente con Vdes., con sus alegrías y sus sufrimientos. Siento gran satisfación de que la comunidad Hispana aqui está tan numerosa y llena de vitalidad.

Les pide una oración por su nuevo pastor y les mando a todos un abrazo muy fuerte en Cristo y en su santísima Madre.


Aos nossos irmãos lusofanos: açorianos, portugueses, brasileiros, caboverdianos, saudaçoes calorosas. Ao voltar a Nova Inglaterra vou poder reatar tantos laços de amizade, estima e colaboracão. As vossas tradições de religiosidade popular, de oração, de valores de familia enriquecem a nossa Igreja e a sociedade em geral.

Antes de vir para esta tomada de posse, fiz uma peregrinação a Fatima para suplicar a benção da Virgem para o meu novo ministerio e tambem pelo povo católico de Boston. Hoje apresento-me como o vosso pastor e amigo. Preciso das vossas orações e ajuda na tarefa de levar a Boa Nova as novas geraçoes de cristãos.

Cristo é a nossa Esperança, com ele vamos a reparar a sua Igreja.


Frem yo kai sem yo

Ayiti cheri pi bon peyi pase wou nanpwen.

Sa fè preske trant an, mwen te jenn Pè nan Achidyosèz Washington. Lè sa, yon gwoup imigran Ayisyen te mande m pou m te kòmanse fè lamès pou yo. Mwen kòmanse yon lanmès pou yo an Fransé. Kominote sa a vi n grandi. Kounye ya, yo genyen yo Apostola Ayisyen nan twa Pawas. Yo genyen tou yon bon Pè Ayisyen avèk yo. Kounye ya, mwen se Monsenyè nan Boston. Mwen deside pou m etidye lang kreyòlla ankò, pou m ka fè lamès e pou m preche nan lang nou an. Tan pri, pran pasyans avèm. Lapriyè tou, pou travay légliz map fè nan mitan nou. Mwen kontan anpil lèm wè kantite Ayisyen Katolik ki gen nan Dyosèz sa a. Mwen espere vizite kominite nou yo pou m kab kontre nou.

Se pou Jezi, bon gadyen an, ak Manman Mari, NotreDame Pèpetyel Sekou, beni nou, byen beni.


Alleged Sexual Abuse by Fr. José Ávila
and the Response of Seán P. O’Malley

By Terence McKiernan
Survivors First
July 30, 2003

A while ago, a survivor advocate named Susan Landry introduced me to a survivor out on the Cape. The story that I heard from him is an important one, especially today, and he asked me to share it with you.*

It concerns a priest named José Maria Bettencourt e Ávila, who by my friend’s estimate abused over a hundred children in the Fall River diocese, during a 44-year career in Taunton, Fall River, East Falmouth, and New Bedford. Ávila’s abuse record is common knowledge among the people of East Falmouth, and in New Bedford parishioners bravely stormed their church — it’s an old Portuguese parish with a large school — and forced the priest’s retirement at last. Fr. José Ávila left a trail of devastation comparable to that caused by Fr. Joseph Birmingham, yet Ávila is completely unknown to the public at large. He is, however, well-known to Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley and to his former colleagues in the Fall River diocese. Their decade-long silence, while victims have gone untreated and uncomforted, is a very serious issue as Seán O’Malley takes over the leadership of the Boston Archdiocese.

The survivor who has come forward about this case is the son of hardworking Portuguese farmers on the Cape. His parents were busy and not wealthy, and they trusted the Catholic church to help them raise their boy. They thought he was safe with Fr. José Ávila at St. Anthony’s church in East Falmouth, and their son looked up to the priest — a Portuguese man, succeeding in a tough world. But Ávila enticed my friend and many other kids, with rides in a speedboat and games of ping-pong and TV and plenty of alcohol. And one day Ávila attacked him in the rectory and raped him. Life has been very difficult for my friend since then, and he feels he’s carrying the “guilt” of the abuse, though he knows it wasn’t his fault. The discipline that he gained during his years in the service was what saved him, he says. He’s in therapy now, for which the church is not paying. Money is not the reason he has begun to speak out.

This remarkable man has patiently described his case to me, and when I visited him in East Falmouth, he introduced me to his friends and neighbors. I met men who had been propositioned by Ávila when they were children. I heard stories of suicides and depression and broken homes, all because of this priest. The history of Ávila and his partner Gilbert Simões, against whom there are six known allegations of abuse, appears to be an open secret among the people of East Falmouth.

These two priests worked at a total of seven [now known to be eight] parishes, from the early 1930s through the late 1980s, leaving destruction in their wake. Yet Ávila is buried in an honorary “Clergy Burial Grounds” behind St. Anthony’s in East Falmouth, and an identical gravestone waits for Simões. Between their graves and the church, my friends’ parents and other victims are buried.

When my friend retired a few years ago, he took the very difficult step of going to the Barnstable DA about Ávila. In a month, the DA’s office phoned my friend and told him that someone else had previously filed a rape charge against the same priest. My friend was told that the statute of limitations prevented the DA from pursuing the case, but it was some comfort that another victim had come forward.

In July 2002, my friend wrote to Seán O’Malley and met once with Sr. Arlene McNamee. She invited him to start therapy, and asked him whether the diocese should set up an office and have other East Falmouth victims come in. My friend told her that he didn’t think the victims in the Portuguese community of East Falmouth would respond well to her approach. To his knowledge, the Fall River diocese let the matter drop after that one conversation.

On September 26, 2002, Bristol DA Paul Walsh published the names of 21 accused priests, including Ávila (with his name misspelled) and Simões. Walsh spoke about ending the silence, and how justice delayed was justice denied. Seán O’Malley’s office responded that the bishop had followed his own procedures well. O’Malley is supposed to be a good administrator. It is simply not credible that he commissioned no briefing on Ávila and the other abusers in 1992 or 1993, as he struggled to contain the Porter crisis.

Indeed, the service records of other Fall River priests with allegations suggest that such an internal review did occur. It would have been especially urgent in the case of Simões, who began his career under the future Cardinal Medeiros, when Medeiros was chancellor of the Fall River diocese and pastor of a parish with a large school.

It is time now to release the diocesan files on every Fall River priest who abused children and vulnerable adults. It’s time to bring justice and dignity to the Portuguese community and to everyone who has suffered because of these priests. We’re told that O’Malley is a healer. Let him finish that job openly in Fall River, and then begin it in Boston.
* This speech was given on behalf of an East Falmouth victim of Fr. José Maria Bettencourt e Ávila. Terence McKiernan of Survivors First and presented it on July 30, 2003 in Boston, when Seán P. O’Malley was installed as the new archbishop there. Allegations regarding José Ávila and Gilbert Simões were confirmed by the Bristol County District Attorney on September 26, 2002. This speech corrects and supplements that announcement.

Protesters demonstrate outside cathedral

By Kathleen Durand
(Fall River MA) Herald News
July 31, 2003

BOSTON -- While Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley was being installed as head of the Boston archdiocese Wednesday, a group of about 50 demonstrators and protesters held signs and gave speeches outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

They stood behind metal barriers in a designated area near the historic cathedral’s front entrance.

Some of them held crosses labeled "Walls of Deceit and Shame." One cross was for the Fall River Diocese. It bore the names of about 21 priests who were investigated for alleged sexual abuse of children.

Terry McKiernan of Natick, an advocate for Survivors First and a founder of Voice of the Faithful, told the gathering that the late Rev. Jose Avila, also known as D’Avila, abused an estimated 100 children during a 44-year career as a priest in Taunton, Fall River, East Falmouth and New Bedford.

Despite the trail of devastation he left, McKiernan said Avila is unknown to the public at large. He said, however, that Avila is known to O’Malley and his former colleagues in the Fall River Diocese.

McKiernan said a survivor who came forward about the case is the son of hardworking farmers on Cape Cod. As a boy, he said the survivor looked up to Avila, until the day that Avila allegedly attacked him in the rectory.

"Life has been very difficult for my friend since then, and he feels he’s carrying the ‘guilt’ of the abuse, though he knows it wasn’t his fault," McKiernan said. He said the man is now in therapy, but the church is not paying for it.

McKiernan said when he visited the victim, he met other men who were propositioned by Avila as children.

"I heard stories of suicides, depression and broken homes, all because of this priest," he said.

He said Avila and the Rev. Gilbert Simoes, his assistant, worked at seven parishes from the early 1930s to the late 1980s, and both abused children.

Although his friend went to the district attorney in Barnstable to file a complaint against Avila, McKiernan said he learned that the statute of limitations prevented prosecution.

McKiernan said his friend was offered counseling by the Fall River Diocese, not by an independent counselor, and after he declined, the diocese dropped the matter.

"It is time now to release the diocesan files on every Fall River priest who abused children and vulnerable adults. It’s time to bring justice and dignity to the Portuguese community and to everyone who has suffered because of these priests," McKiernan said. "We’re told that O’Malley is a healer. Let him finish that job openly in Fall River, and then begin it in Boston."

Some of the protesters held signs that read "Criminals in robes," "Bishops are intrinsically evil," "O’Malley, oh really," and "Thanks for standing with the victims."

Rene Buchanan of Allston said she has been demonstrating outside the cathedral since 1979 to press for the ordination of female priests. She is a member of Massachusetts Womenchurch and the National Women’s Ordination Conference.



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