Documents Include Complaints against Man Living in Laconia

Union Leader (Manchester NH)
December 6, 2002

LACONIA (AP) — A real estate agent who was once a Massachusetts priest settled claims with three people who accused him of sexual assault, according to internal church documents released this week.

Among the complaints were allegations that Robert Towner, 59, of Laconia, molested boys during overnight trips to New Hampshire, sometimes in the presence of other Roman Catholic priests. A fourth man who filed a complaint with the church but did not sue said he played strip poker with Towner and other priests during one of the trips.

"At this point I don't know how I will ultimately deal with the devastation that this abuse caused in my life," the man wrote to the church last year in a letter asking it to pay for his therapy.

Towner, who is married and has children, declined to comment when contacted by the Concord Monitor on Wednesday.

His personnel file from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston was among eight made public Tuesday after a judge ordered the church to turn them over to lawyers representing alleged victims of abuse by priests.

According to the records, Towner left the priesthood in 1990 and initially worked as a social worker in New Hampshire before becoming a real estate agent.

The documents describe Towner's parish assignments, the settlements he signed with three alleged victims and his reasons for leaving the priesthood. They also show the stance Bishop John B. McCormack, then in charge of handling sex abuse complaints for the archdiocese, took against Towner after his alleged victims demanded money.

"My own opinion is that since (Towner) is (no longer a priest) and since there seems to be some substance to the allegations, that we ought not to rush to assist him," McCormack wrote to a church associate in 1994.

In the next two years, the archdiocese paid Towner's three alleged victims a total of $87,000. Two of the three initially had demanded $850,000.

The alleged victims included a woman who said Towner forced himself on her and kissed her when she was a child and attended the Brookline, Mass., parish where Towner was assigned in the late 1960s. A man who attended the same parish accused Towner of molesting him in the late 1960s, when he was about 13. He said Towner took him to a lakeside cabin and molested him during an overnight trip.

During a second trip, another priest allegedly accompanied them, the man said.

Around the same time, Towner also is accused of taking another boy to New Hampshire for an overnight trip in 1983 and getting him drunk. The boy passed out but recalled Towner fondling him, according to the alleged victim's lawsuit.

In 2001, the church heard from a fourth person who claimed he was abused by Towner. The man said he was twice molested in the early 1980s, once in Massachusetts and once in New Hampshire. The latter incident involved strip poker with a number of priests, according to an internal memo in Towner's file written by a church official.

Although the allegations against him date back to the 1960s, it appears none were reported to police until this year, when the clergy abuse scandal prompted prosecutors in Massachusetts and New Hampshire to demand the church turn over its records on accused priests. However, the New Hampshire statute of limitations may allow authorities to charge Towner based on the 1980s incidents.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Will Delker declined to comment on whether the state is investigating Towner.

According to the file, Towner joined the priesthood in 1969 at age 25. He encountered problems soon after arriving in Quincy, Mass., but the file doesn't make the details clear.

In one letter, a parishioner told Towner he'd been in Quincy long enough.

"Let's punish some other parish now," the person wrote.

In 1977, a fellow priest complained in a letter to church officials about Towner.

"Father Towner has a drinking problem, stays in bed until noontime every day, and has had to leave the altar on occasion because his hand shakes so much when he distributes Holy Communion," the other priest wrote.

In 1986, Towner suddenly asked for a leave of absence from his Bedford, Mass., parish. The next year, he requested to be placed on leave in a letter that alluded to problems but didn't spell them out.

"I need time to process the Bedford events, recent and remote, arrange a retreat and get my head and heart back into balance," he wrote.

He was removed from the priesthood at his request in April 1990.

"My life is going wonderfully well, and I've decided not to return," he wrote to McCormack in 1988.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.