Priest Resigns Amid Allegations

By Valerie Lovett
Pensacola News Journal (Pensacola, FL)
September 8, 2003

Parishioners at St. Michael's Catholic Church were shocked at Mass over the weekend to learn that a longtime and well-liked priest has admitted to molesting a boy 34 years ago in St. Augustine.

Monsignor Richard Bowles, 74, was described Sunday as a highly respected, upstanding man by several members of his congregation.

"I'm very shocked," said Kayty Pappas, a parishioner who was involved in several church organizations with Bowles. "I feel like I am very close to the monsignor. In all my years of association with him, I've never seen him do anything untoward. I find it hard to believe."

Bowles abruptly announced his resignation about three weeks ago, Pappas said, but his failing health was widely believed to be the reason.

Bishop John Ricard of the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese celebrated Mass at St. Michael's on Sunday and broke the news to church members who were not at the Saturday evening service.

Monsignor Michael Mooney, spokesman for the diocese and pastor at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, said the accusations came to their attention about three weeks ago - a few days before Bowles' resignation.

He said a person who is not a member of the victim's family contacted church leaders with the information, prompting an investigation by the Diocesan Independent Review Board into Bowles' conduct.

"He admitted to the incident," Mooney said. "And in compliance with our policy and the Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People of June 2002, he will no longer function as a priest or otherwise be involved in ministry."

Mooney said he does not know where Bowles is residing.

"He acknowledges that our policy mandates his resignation," Mooney said.

He called the information "heartbreaking."

"It's never easy to hear of a brother priest being involved in such an incident," Mooney said. "First and foremost, my thoughts went to the gentleman and his family."

The atmosphere inside the church in downtown Pensacola was one of disbelief and shock, congregation member Ray Martinez said as he was leaving Mass on Sunday.

"He was very much respected and loved," Martinez said. "He's going to be missed. He was a very good priest, it seemed. I'm shocked at the news."

Bowles was at St. Michael's for 25 years and was a priest for 42 years before his resignation.

"What occurred 34 years ago, I don't excuse that," said Robert Pappas, Kayty Pappas' husband. "It's whether or not he has repented of that. If he has, then we don't need to hold it against him.

"It's my opinion that the clergy of any denomination are held to a much higher standard. He who has not sinned, let him cast the first stone."

The Catholic Church's handling of priests who have sexually abused children has been under intense scrutiny in recent years.

"I personally believe that there's an ongoing effort on the part of some people to discredit the Catholic Church, and I think this is part of that," Robert Pappas said. "This also might be an opportunity for the Catholic Church to set its house in order."

Martinez expressed similar feelings.

"It seems the spotlight has been on the Catholic Church," he said. "Personally, I think it's a sad commentary on the world as a whole. It's scary to see the darker side coming out, and it makes you wonder how close we are to the end of the world. All I know is to keep my faith in God."


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