Victim's Group Raises O'Malley Questions
Snap Says Bishop Allowed Accused Priest to Work at Mission [Boston MA]
July 3, 2003

BOSTON -- An organization of alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse says there have been questions in the past about the way Boston Archbishop-elect Sean Patrick O'Malley has handled allegations of sex abuse.

"Everybody is so desperate for a hero, they're willing to tout him as a hero before he does anything that warrants that," said Ann Hagan Webb of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

While he was bishop of Fall River, O'Malley allowed a priest accused of molesting a girl in the 1960s to continue working at a Bolivian mission for eight years after the alleged incident was reported to him, according to a spokesman for diocese.

Spokesman John Kearns said O'Malley followed diocesan policy in the case involving the Rev. Donald Bowen, and maintained that the unidentified woman who told O'Malley her story was comfortable with his response.

"He believes the person was satisfied on that count," Kearns said.

Kearns added that Bowen's superiors in Bolivia guaranteed he would be periodically evaluated, and that he would have no contact with children.

But for Webb, the assurance is inadequate because it's impossible to know how closely Bowen was supervised. She says she's troubled by O'Malley's handling of the Bowen case and that his reputation as a savior of troubled dioceses may be "overblown."

"This man has a reputation for being wonderfully well-spoken and coming across as understanding of survivor issues," Webb said. "That's great. Let's see him do something."

O'Malley's appointment as archbishop of Boston was announced Tuesday by the Vatican. He has returned to his current post in Palm Beach, Fla., and did not immediately return a message left with the diocese spokesman there.

Bowen, who pleaded not guilty, is free on bail as he awaits trial on charges including indecent assault and battery. His attorney, Peter Muse, did not return a call for comment.

The victim in the Bowen case, now in her late 40s, said Bowen molested her between 1965 and 1971, starting at age 9. Bowen left the country a few years later to work at the Society of St. James mission in Bolivia, a move that froze the clock on the statute of limitations, enabling prosecutors to file charges last year.

The woman settled her lawsuit against the Fall River Diocese in January 1992, seven months before O'Malley became bishop there. The woman met with O'Malley in 1994, seeking assurances that Bowen would not be around children.

The Fall River policy mandated that even old allegations be reported to authorities, something O'Malley didn't do. Kearns said that when an adult reports abuse to the diocese, officials leave it up to the person to go to the police due to privacy concerns.

"If he or she wished to report it, fine," he said.

The Fall River policy that guided O'Malley in the Bowen case was a sweeping reform he enacted to repair damage caused by the Rev. James Porter, a convicted molester.

Its general success is believed to be a key reason the Vatican assigned O'Malley to Palm Beach to repair damage left by two previous bishops who both admitted to molestating children -- and now to Boston.

Despite his reputation as an able crisis manager, O'Malley's past handling of sex abuse cases was not universally acclaimed.

Last year, Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh criticized O'Malley for what he said were delays in giving him the names of 20 priests accused of child abuse.

O'Malley said he was unaware of the old abuse cases because he was focused on Porter. He said after new policies were enacted, he brought past cases to authorities when he learned of them.

In a move criticized by some civil rights advocates, Walsh publicly released the priests' names, even though none of the priests could be criminally charged because the statute of limitations had expired.

"To sit there for 10 years and pretend that there are no other cases in Bristol County perpetuates a falsehood, and I'm not going to be a part of that," Walsh said at the time.


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