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  Two More Women Accuse Priest

By Nancy Phillips
Philadelphia Inquirer [Pennsylvania]
July 18, 2005

Two more women have come forward to accuse a retired Center City priest of sexually abusing them when they were minors.

The women, who are sisters, say Msgr. Philip J. Dowling assaulted them decades ago when he was their family's parish priest at Corpus Christi Church in North Philadelphia.

Dowling, 76, the former pastor of St. Patrick Parish near Rittenhouse Square, was suspended in March after two other women - also sisters - told The Inquirer he had abused them for years, beginning in the 1960s when they were preteens.

In an interview, Dowling admitted he had "crossed the bound" by repeatedly touching one of the girls in an "inappropriate" sexual manner, but he denied abusing her sister, as both women allege.

He said his actions were an aberration in an otherwise stellar career. "It's been 40-some years ago, and it's the only situation like that that ever occurred in my life," Dowling said.

The latest allegations, which come to light as a Philadelphia grand jury investigation of clergy sex crimes nears completion, call that into question.

The new allegations against Dowling have surfaced in large part because of one woman's long-held hunch.

One of Dowling's new accusers, a 58-year-old Florida woman who asked not to be identified, said in a brief telephone interview that the priest had molested her and her older sister when they were minors.

The woman, who is a nurse, declined to give specifics but said she and her sister, who lives in California, had recently given detailed accounts to a private investigator who works for the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

The investigator, former FBI Agent Jack Rossiter, declined to comment last week, citing church confidentiality rules and the secrecy of the grand jury probe.

Donna M. Farrell, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, confirmed on Friday that the church was investigating the new allegations against Dowling. She said the church had notified the District Attorney's Office and had offered the two women counseling.

"We're praying for their healing," Farrell said.

Two people familiar with the women's accounts say the Florida woman and her sister, who is 62, told Rossiter that Dowling had abused them for years. The women's accounts echoed those of the first set of sisters, those sources said.

Dowling could not be reached for comment last week. His lawyers did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The allegations against Dowling are among scores of cases that have been examined by the grand jury in its three-year investigation. District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham announced the probe in 2002, vowing to uncover all sexual abuse of minors by clergy, living or dead.

The investigation, now the longest-running such inquiry in the nation, is drawing to a close, according to two people who are familiar with the grand jury's work and who asked not to be identified by name.

The first set of sisters to accuse Dowling gave statements to district attorney investigators three years ago. Those statements were read to the grand jury this spring, according to a person with knowledge of the inquiry.

Abraham, through spokeswoman Cathie Abookire, declined to comment, citing grand jury secrecy rules.

The first abuse reports against Dowling came from Pat McMenamin, 53, of northern Florida, and her sister, who is 54 and lives in the Philadelphia suburbs. In March, they told the newspaper they had been subjected to years of abuse by Dowling, beginning when they were preteens and he was their parish priest.

They said he fondled them, touched their genitals, had them touch his, and ejaculated. McMenamin's sister, who asked that her name not be used, said the priest once raped her. Dowling has adamantly denied this.

McMenamin's sister said she had often wondered whether Dowling might have also abused a childhood friend of hers. She said the priest had spent time at her friend's house and that the two girls used to tease each other about which of them Dowling liked more.

When a reporter contacted the woman's childhood friend, who now lives in South Florida, she said the hunch was correct: Dowling had abused her and her older sister when they were girls.

The new allegations against Dowling have prompted further investigation of him by the church board that was formed in response to the abuse scandal.

Dowling retired a year ago as pastor of St. Patrick but remained in good standing with the title of pastor emeritus. In March, after learning of the first allegations against him, the archdiocese suspended him.

Last month, Dowling was permanently barred from ministry and sent to a clergy residential treatment program in Delaware County, where he is to undergo counseling and have his whereabouts monitored.

Another fact about the allegations against Dowling has emerged in recent weeks: One of the first two sisters to accuse him says that in 1990, she told another priest of the abuse.

That priest, Msgr. John C. Marine, has admitted to the church that he knew of this allegation against Dowling but had not reported it to the archdiocese, The Inquirer has learned.

The woman said she went to Marine 15 years ago to talk about a personal problem - and ended up telling him of the abuse.

"I didn't plan to tell him. It just came out," she said. Marine did not encourage her to report the abuse to the archdiocese or to police, she said.

Marine, 55, the former regional vicar for Montgomery County who is now pastor of St. Bede the Venerable Parish in Holland, Bucks County, declined comment and referred questions to Farrell, the church spokeswoman.

Farrell said she could not discuss any aspect of the case because of the grand jury inquiry. She said the archdiocese now requires employees to report abuse allegations to law enforcement and to the church.

While the Vatican has defrocked nine priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese in recent weeks for long-ago acts of what the church termed "misconduct" with minors, Dowling has not faced that penalty, the harshest step the church can take.

Cardinal Justin Rigali has declined comment on the Dowling case. In recent months, he has declined to discuss the church's handling of sex-abuse reports.

 
 

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