The Priest Files; Troubled Towner Urged by Law to Resume Ministry
By Robin Washington and Jules Crittenden
December 4, 2002
Despite Robert Towner's troubled past and strong indications the church knew about accusations he sexually abused minors, Bernard Cardinal Law wrote he was eager for the priest to resume ministry after a leave of absence from a Bedford posting in 1987.
"It is . . . my prayer that with God's grace your desire to resume priestly ministry will be strengthened," Law wrote in granting Towner the leave.
The next year, when Towner decided to leave the priesthood, church officials suggested he stay. "It seems to me the only thing that can be done now . . . is to slow him down a bit so he can reflect further on his decision," the Rev. John McCormack wrote Law.
Towner's ministerial career began in 1969 at St. Mary's in Brookline followed by a 1971 assignment at Quincy's St. Joseph's. He left in 1979 to attend Boston College School of Social Work and became a therapist in 1981 at Family Counseling and Guidance Centers.
He had short stints at Bedford's St. Michael's, St. Philip Neri in Newton and St. Mary's in Lynn, where he allegedly molested former altar boy Michael Dempsey.
"I was so scared and in my twisted logic I felt really bad for him, thinking, 'This guy is so lonely he had to do that?' " Dempsey told the Herald in March.
Other allegations in the file suggest Towner was preying on children throughout his priesthood and at the counseling center, and that victims included girls and boys.
In one file, a mother complained Towner abused her son while counseling the boy at Family Counseling and said her complaints were ignored.
As a social worker, Towner would have been required to report the abuse, even though he had committed it.
Now married to a former nun and living in New Hampshire, Towner left early yesterday from the real estate office where he works and did not return a call to his home seeking comment. In March, he said of the charges, "As it is a matter of litigation, I cannot comment."
On another litigation matter, Towner was told in 1994 legal bills to cover an archdiocese-designated lawyer handling his abuse suits would not be covered.
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