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Ex-Deputy to George, Bernardin Accused
2 More Priests Gone from Posts

By Mickey Ciokajlo and Monica Davey
Chicago Tribune
May 28, 2002

The sex-abuse scandal that has plagued the Roman Catholic Church has reached into the upper levels of the Chicago archdiocese with the removal from duty of two priests, including a former top deputy to Cardinal Francis George and the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

"It's a very difficult decision because he's also someone whom I know and I respect," George said Monday of his decision to remove Rev. R. Peter Bowman, 73, who from 1995 to 2000 was vicar for administration. "But that's the protocol."

Bowman, well-liked among priests and previously a popular pastor at a large Arlington Heights church, was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor male more than 45 years ago when he was an associate pastor at St. Denis' Parish on the city's Southwest Side, a spokesman for the archdiocese said. The accusation against Bowman, officially retired but still performing priestly duties in his parish, was reported to church officials in late April, said James Dwyer, the spokesman.

Also removed from his duties was Rev. Donald Mulsoff, 58, an associate pastor at St. Celestine Church in Elmwood Park. Two men--one in March, the other in April--reported that Mulsoff had abused minors more than 25 years ago at two churches in Oak Lawn and Cicero, according to the archdiocese. One of the men said he was a victim. The other said he had witnessed Mulsoff abusing others.

The two priests, whose departures were announced to parishioners this past weekend, were the third and fourth priests removed by the archdiocese this year. A fifth priest, whom authorities say fled to his native India, is being sought on a criminal warrant.

The removals come as more new complaints, some of them about decades-old incidents, have been made across the U.S. since the priest sex-abuse scandal began drawing intense attention several months ago.

Here, church officials could not say precisely how many new complaints have come in recently, but they say those cases number fewer than 50. The complaints are being examined by an administrator and a nine-member professional fitness review board created about 10 years ago as a centerpiece in the archdiocese's reform plan for dealing with sex-abuse cases, officials said.

In the two latest cases, the allegations were reviewed and found credible and have been forwarded to the Cook County state's attorney's office for investigation, Dwyer said. Any statute of limitations issue cannot be answered until prosecutors investigate, according to state's attorney's spokeswoman Marcy O'Boyle.

Some critics raised questions Monday about the number of weeks it took for the review board to consider the cases of the latest two priests, who each had been the subject of an earlier complaint. Neither of the earlier claims were found to have merit, the archdiocese said.

"I think what this means is that Chicago is like every other diocese," said David Clohessy, national director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "They can't go on making these extreme promises that their [review board] makes certain that there are no known abusers in our diocese, that somehow everything is fine here."

Parishioners stunned

In the churches where Bowman and Mulsoff had worked, parishioners said they were shocked by the news.

At St. Teresa of Avila Church in Lincoln Park, where Bowman had most recently been in residence and sometimes still said mass, he was remembered as a funny, admired man with a sophisticated wit and a love of ministering to the homeless, organizing fundraisers and counseling young couples.

"Maybe there are people who think we should have zero tolerance, but then you meet someone like Peter Bowman," parishioner Sarah Gentle, 64, said.

Bowman has been moved to a private residence and placed on administrative leave and will be monitored by the review board. He could not be reached for comment Monday. Ordained in May 1955, Bowman has cooperated with church officials since the allegation, they said.

Rev. Larry Dowling, pastor of St. Denis, where Bowman worked when the incident was alleged to have taken place 45 years ago, said he has spoken to Bowman since the allegation became known.

"I think he is confused about it," Dowling said. "He's uncertain of what is happening. He is sorting it out. I don't think he has a recollection of it."

As a friend of Bowman's, Dowling said he has shed "quite a few tears" himself in the last few days. "I will continue to walk with him through this, " he said. "It's a strain, but you don't abandon a friend in the midst of this."

Still, said Dowling: "I trust the fitness review board. They weigh these things out very clearly. There are probably people on that board who know Peter."

The archdiocese first heard of the complaint against Bowman in late April, at which point an administrator began conducting interviews, Dwyer said.

An earlier complaint of inappropriate behavior was made against Bowman a year or two ago, but the review board found nothing to substantiate it, Dwyer said.

"It was characterized by somebody as horseplay that could have been misinterpreted," Dwyer said.

Gym was named for Bowman

At St. James Church in Arlington Heights, where he was pastor for 17 years to about 15,000 parishioners, Bowman was wildly popular. During his tenure Bowman made regular cameo appearances in the springtime musicals. The gymnasium was named for him. He got a standing ovation when he was introduced not long ago at the church's 100th anniversary celebration.

"He made you feel like you were his best friend," said Peter Buckley, 42, who grew up in the parish.

But Buckley had empathy for Bowman's accuser too.

"For him to come forward at this late stage--this has probably been with him for a long time," he said.

Gail Fredian, outgoing chairwoman of the parish pastoral council, said she didn't know enough yet to form an opinion but was skeptical. "He's done so many wonderful things for St. James and for the Catholic Church, and then 45 years later someone accuses him of something," she said. "It's difficult to believe."

At the church where Mulsoff, the other accused priest, was an associate pastor, parishioners also were "deeply affected" and "deeply hurt," the pastor there said.

"They hope the allegations are not true," said Rev. Larry Sullivan of St. Celestine. "They really believe that their faith is strong."

Mulsoff, who was ordained in 1969, also worked at St. Catherine of Alexandria in Oak Lawn; Mary, Queen of Heaven, Cicero; Blessed Sacrament, Chicago; and St. Mary of Perpetual Help, Chicago.

An anonymous allegation was made against Mulsoff in 1992, before the current policy on abuse existed and before the review board existed, church officials said. It was unclear Monday what was done to follow up the allegation at that time.

"Even now it would be difficult to process an anonymous allegation," Dwyer said.

Tribune staff reporter James Janega contributed to this report

 
 

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