Mourners Fill Church for Priest's Funeral

Associated Press, carried in Manchester (NH) Union Leader
January 4, 2003

New London -- Mourners packed the church Rev. Richard Lower had served at for 13 years to attend his funeral yesterday, one week after a molestation allegation may have led him to take his life.

"We are faltering disciples and we have come here on wobbly, weak, and shaking knees. We may even have come with clenched fists and tightened jaws, angry over all that has happened," friend and fellow priest Daniel St. Laurent wrote in a homily for the funeral Mass.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester termed Lower's death an apparent suicide soon after the 57-year-old priest's body was found Sunday on a hiking trail in Enfield, where he grew up. Police won't go that far and say it could be weeks or months before a cause of death is determined.

Lower's casket was surrounded by Christmas decorations and poinsettias in Our Lady of Fatima Church. Behind the altar, through large windows, mourners could see the leaden sky and spitting snow of an impending snowstorm. The windows were installed in a major church remodeling effort that Lower spearheaded, completed five years ago.

More than 600 mourners filled the sanctuary and choir loft. Another 300 or more watched on closed-circuit television in a basement room. The mourners included 55 priests and Lower's two sisters and their families. Both of his parents are dead.

Late last week, a man told the diocese Lower had molested him when he was a boy at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Littleton in 1973. The case probably was too old to be prosecuted, but a week ago Friday, diocesan officials told Lower he would be put on leave pending investigations by state and local authorities and the church.

By evening, no one could find him, and a search ensued.

In a written statement earlier this week, the diocese said circumstances that it did not spell out "indicate he may have taken his own life." Besides the accusation, Bishop John B. McCormack said Lower had been dealing with medical problems including chronic back and arthritic pain, and his mother had died in November.

Yesterday, McCormack celebrated Lower's funeral Mass, which was closed to reporters. McCormack did not talk to reporters afterward.

Pastoral council President Richard Biron, who spoke at the service, told reporters it focused on Lower's service to the parish and community.

"Everyone stands in a bit of disbelief and shock. At this time, they are concerned about the loss of a pastor," he said.

Biron said Lower had back surgery a year ago and noted the recent death of his mother. But he declined to speculate about what was on Lower's mind in his last few days.

"Only he knows and the lord," he said.

In a statement re-released outside the church yesterday, Lower's family focused on the positive, but also reached out to the unidentified man who said he was molested.

"We are very proud of his life's work," the family said. "The church was his life. He was our strength through life's difficult struggles."

"On behalf of Father Dick and ourselves, if anyone was ever harmed by him, we ask that you forgive him and seek out someone to assist you in your own pain," the family wrote.


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