Monsignor Takes Leave to Defend Self
By Elaine Goodman
May 29, 2002
Monsignor Robert Bowling, pastor since 1974 at St. Therese the Little Flower Church in Reno, is taking a two-week leave of absence to defend himself against accusations that he sexually abused two girls 40 years ago in Kentucky.
Bowling is heading to Louisville this week to clear his name in two lawsuits filed in Jefferson Circuit Court against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, an official said. The suits claim that the church knew of the alleged abuse by Bowling from 1958 to 1962 but did nothing to stop it.
During Sunday services at the church at Plumb and Kietzke lanes, the 74-year-old priest denied the charges in front of his congregation.
Reading from a prepared statement, Bowling told parishioners: "I was shocked and dismayed to learn of the allegations made against me. ? With a clear conscience, mind and soul, I categorically and emphatically deny these allegations. ? I would never do any act to harm any children."
Bishop Phillip Straling also attended Masses over the weekend, where he read a statement prepared by diocese officials on the allegations, according to Brother Matthew Cunningham, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno. "(Bowling) enjoys a good reputation and continues to stand tall and is highly respected in our community because of his exemplary ministry and service," the statement said.
Straling has approved Bowling's leave of absence, Cunningham said, although the diocese isn't offering any financial help to Bowling in the legal matters.
Bowling couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment. He said last week that he's working with a Louisville attorney, and has been invited to sit in when lawyers depose his accusers. Bowling said he's considering taking legal action of his own in the matter.
In a complaint filed last week in Jefferson Circuit Court in Kentucky, Karen Newton Mouser claims that Bowling forced her to expose herself to him during confession in 1962, when she was 11 years old.
In a second lawsuit, Janice Hicks Unseld said in court papers that she was "sexually molested, abused, battered and assaulted" by Bowling from 1960 to 1962, when she was 12 to 14 years old.
The lawsuits allege that abuses occurred from 1958 to 1962 while Bowling was managing the Holy Cross Church and School in Loretto, Ky., about 45 miles southeast of Louisville. Since April 19, 96 lawsuits have been filed against the Louisville Archdiocese.
Cunningham said local parishioners have made no claims of sexual misconduct against Bowling, who was ordained in 1954, moved to Las Vegas in 1969 and came to Reno two years later. The Reno diocese will conduct its own review of the allegations in Kentucky.
Parishioners leaving lunch-hour Mass on Tuesday also defended Bowling.
"It isn't true. No way," said parishioner Kathleen Koentop, who has belonged to the Little Flower parish for the 21 years she's lived in the area.
"To come up now with this false accusation at this time in his life, when he's served the community so well, it's a terrible thing."
Parishioner Lee Patton of Sparks said he's saddened by the accusations, which he does not believe are true.
"It's really a shame that this has happened," Patton said. "Father Bowling is absolutely a wonderful, wonderful person, doing a tremendous amount of help for the community."
Statement to St. Therese the Little Flower Church congregation
Statement read Sunday by Monsignor Robert Bowling to the congregation at St. Therese the Little Flower Church in Reno:
Last week, I learned that my name has been mentioned in allegations in a civil lawsuit filed in Kentucky against the Archdiocese of Louisville.
I was shocked and dismayed to learn of the allegations made against me.
What little I have been told by the Archdiocese of Louisville is that the civil complaint alleges that I committed untoward acts to two children over 45 years ago. This civil lawsuit is one of over 100 filed against the archdiocese in Kentucky.
With a clear conscience, mind and soul, I categorically and emphatically deny these allegations.
Our Lord was sent to the desert for 40 days where he was tested, prodded and tempted by the devil. Although I know not how long this ordeal will last, I now begin my 40 days.
In our parish, we espouse that love is spoken here. The outpouring of love and support I have received from you is overwhelming and deeply appreciated in my time of great need.
I would never do any act to harm any children.
I would never do any act to bring this parish, and the church I have served for 48 years, dishonor.
You must all know that our parish and diocese will not be exposed to any liability while I defend my name, honor and vocation.
In order to defend myself, I must return to Kentucky and my family. Thus, I have requested from the bishop and have been granted a two-week leave from my duties to this parish to defend my name and my honor.
During this time, I urge all of you to remember that love is spoken here and that I, though disheartened by these false allegations, will continue to speak love.
We will all endure.
I believe in my heart that good will come from this. I recently spoke of the scandal within our church. We the clergy will not be painted with this broad brush. The wheat will be separated from the chaff.
I will remain strong and vigorous in my defense, and we will remain close and strong as a community. In fact, a parishioner told me if we were any closer right now, we would be eating from each other's plates.
I thank you for community-wide support - support which has not been limited by the boundaries of creed, color or race.
I will remember all of you in my thoughts and prayers. I will not be forsaken, and will return in two weeks to continue the ministry and works that have made our church at Little Flower a holy, spiritual and wonderful place to gather as a community.
I am not asking for your support for I know I have it. I am not asking for your forgiveness, for I do not need it. I ask only that all of you continue our spirit that love is spoken here. God bless all of you.
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