Priest Suspended after 'Inquirer' Reveals He Confessed to Fondling Girl

The Associated Press, carried in Editor & Publisher [Philadelphia PA]
March 28, 2005

PHILADELPHIA The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia suspended a priest this month after he allegedly told a newspaper reporter that he had fondled a teenage girl several decades ago.

Church officials said they removed Msgr. Philip J. Dowling from all public ministry on March 18, the day they were informed by The Philadelphia Inquirer that the retired pastor had confessed during an interview to having engaged in "inappropriate" touching of a girl in his parish.

"It crossed the (line)," Dowling told the newspaper. "And I'm very sorry for the inappropriate acts and touches."

The newspaper said it interviewed Dowling three times this month as part of an investigation into allegations by two women, now in their 50s.

One of the women said the abuse started when she was 8 and continued until she was 14. The other sister said Dowling began abusing her when she was 11 or 12 and continued until she was 18.

The women said they went to the press because they were frustrated with the pace of a grand jury investigation into the clergy abuse scandal in Philadelphia.

District Attorney Lynne Abraham announced three years ago that her office was investigating whether any priest or church official could still be charged with a crime, but the case has been shrouded in secrecy ever since.

The women said they spent several hours describing their case to investigators in 2002, but were never called before the grand jury.

Church officials said prosecutors also never told them of the allegations against Dowling, who continued to lead congregations in the city until his retirement in July.

A spokeswoman for Abraham declined to comment Monday, citing a gag order imposed by a judge.

While he acknowledged some contact with one of the women that was sexual in nature, Dowling, 75, denied several of their specific allegations.

He said he only touched one of the girls, and only when she was in her late teens, according to the newspaper. The women alleged that they were both victims of much more serious conduct. Dowling denied a claim by one of the women that he raped her.

"Memories going back 40 years can dim," he said. "They had to forget or distort in their minds, because it did not happen."