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  Child Porn Charges Filed against Priest

By Kevin Flowers and Jack Grazier
Erie Times-News
March 11, 1999

A priest in the Erie Roman Catholic Diocese was arrested Wednesday

for allegedly downloading child pornography from the Internet onto his

personal computer.

The pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Cambridge Springs, the Rev. Robert Francis Bower, 66, was charged with three counts of possession of child pornography, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

"We feel very confident in the charges we have filed in the case so far," Pennsylvania State Police spokesman trooper Mark Zaleski said today. "We certainly don't feel any of the images were downloaded by accident."

Bower has been relieved of his parish duties pending the outcome of the investigation.

Police said their investigation began after an employee at a local computer repair shop called troopers in February.

The employee said that while repairing a computer brought in by Bower, he discovered pictures downloaded onto the hard drive that depicted children engaged in various sex acts.

Zaleski said that the first count involves images that were

downloaded between June 21 and Dec. 21 of 1996.

The second count involves images downloaded between January and December of 1997.

The third count involves images downloaded between January and December of 1998.

"We're looking at a time period of from June of 1996 to December of 1998," Zaleski said. "These images were discovered on Feb. 16 of this year ... so they were on the computer from June 21 of 1996 until Feb. 16 of 1999."

Zaleski said "a number of images were on the computer." He would not say how many.

"We feel our evidence is very solid," he said."

According to both Pennsylvania and federal law, it is not illegal to view child pornography. It is a crime, however, to possess it.

When someone viewing such images on the Internet downloads, or saves, the pictures onto computer disks or their computer's memory, that person is in possession of the pornography, according to police.

"If an individual receives a number of e-mails over a period of time containing pornographic images, both ourselves and federal officials who aggressively look into child pornography would certainly like to be notified," Zaleski said. "But in a three-year period with Mr. Bower, during which this was supposedly happening, we did not

receive information that illegal images were being sent to anybody. We didn't get a phone call."

Bower was arraigned before District Justice Denise Stuck-Lewis of Edinboro and McKean. Bower waived his right to a preliminary hearing and Stuck-Lewis bound the charges over to the next term of Erie County Criminal Court. Bower, who has been at St. Anthony since 1992, was released on

recognizance bond, authorities said.

Erie Catholic Bishop Donald W. Trautman said in a statement that Bower "has been placed on administrative leave until the legal charges are fully disposed of."

The bishop also said another priest will be assigned to St. Anthony Church as a temporary pastor, but his statement did not specify who the new priest will be or when he will begin at the Crawford County church.

Bower could not be reached for comment today.

Bower first came to St. Anthony as a parochial administrator in 1992. He was reappointed in May 1998 to another six-year assignment at the church.

Previously, Bower served as campus minister at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and as an assistant librarian at Gannon College, now Gannon University.

Bower's leave began Wednesday and is effective immediately, according to Diocesan spokesman Gary Loncki.

Further details of the state police investigation were unavailable.

 
 

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