2 Who Accused Monsignor to Testify
"Very, Very Sorry" Prosecutor Acknowledges D.A.'s Office Let Sisters' Case Languish

By Nancy Phillips
Philadelphia Inquirer [Philadelphia PA]
April 17, 2005

The District Attorney's Office has quietly acknowledged that it let two sisters' sex-abuse allegations against a Philadelphia priest languish since 2002, and has invited the women to testify before a grand jury.

Pat McMenamin of Atlantic Beach, Fla., says a top prosecutor told her the allegations she had made against Msgr. Philip J. Dowling had been "buried" in a box - and that her sister's account had been lost altogether.

McMenamin said Assistant District Attorney Charles Gallagher had explained to her that because of the statute of limitations, prosecutors had chosen to focus on abuse reports from 1967 or later. McMenamin, 53, and her sister, 54, say they were abused starting in the early 1960s.

She said Gallagher had called and said he was "very, very sorry," and asked McMenamin and her sister to appear before the grand jury that has been secretly hearing testimony in the long-running investigation into alleged sex abuse by clergy.

Gallagher and his boss, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, declined to comment, citing rules of grand-jury secrecy and a court-imposed gag order.

"I apologize for not being able to answer your questions," Abraham said Tuesday. "... I can only say this: It's a long, complex issue, and it takes time and patience."

The sisters, who first contacted the District Attorney's Office when the investigation began in 2002, say they were repeatedly assaulted by Msgr. Dowling, starting before they were teenagers. At the time, Dowling was their parish priest in North Philadelphia.

Dowling, 75, pastor emeritus of St. Patrick Church in Center City, has admitted to "inappropriate" sexual touching of one sister but denied the other allegations.

Dowling is one of the highest-ranking priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese to be publicly implicated in alleged crimes against minors. A theologian who studied in Rome and taught at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, he worked on poverty issues and headed the Cardinal's Commission on Human Relations in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The allegations against Dowling were first reported March 28 in The Inquirer. The church said it learned of the allegations from the newspaper, and promptly suspended him. Dowling is barred from celebrating Mass or wearing his collar in public while the church investigates.

In April 2002, when Abraham first announced the grand-jury investigation, she vowed to examine "all allegations involving priests, whether they are dead, dismissed or retired."

But as prosecutors sifted through scores of allegations and interviewed dozens of witnesses, they decided to examine cases dating back only 35 years, according to two people familiar with the inquiry. The statute of limitations bars criminal charges in child sex-abuse cases if victims come forward after age 30.

McMenamin said Gallagher had told her that her 2002 statement to investigators had been "buried" in a box and that her sister's statement had been misplaced.

"They only went back to 1967," she said. "... I thought it was anybody, living, dead or whatever. How about all the other people back in the early '60s?... Maybe all the other people whose statements are buried in boxes would like to know."

It could not be learned how many allegations against clergy might have been affected by the district attorney's decision to limit the scope of the secret inquiry. Ten allegations of pre-1967 abuse by six priests have surfaced to date.

The women told investigators in 2002 that Dowling had begun abusing them before they were teenagers and continued for years. They say the priest climbed into a bed the girls shared and fondled them, touched their genitals, had them touch his, and ejaculated. Once, McMenamin's sister alleged, he raped her. Dowling denies this.

But the D.A.'s office apparently neither questioned Dowling - who in 2002 was pastor of St. Patrick church, off Rittenhouse Square - nor notified the archdiocese.

As the investigation dragged on, the women grew frustrated with its pace and contacted The Inquirer.

In an interview last month, Dowling, who lives in the Tioga section of North Philadelphia, admitted to the newspaper that he had fondled one of the girls, but said he believed she was in her late teens at the time. "It crossed the bound and I'm very sorry for the inappropriate acts and touches," he said. He denied abusing the other sister.

In an earlier interview, Dowling said of the women's accounts: "It was affection leading into other things... It's the only situation like that that ever occurred in my life."

Neither Dowling nor his lawyers could not be reached for comment last week.

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna M. Farrell declined to comment on the church's investigation. She said no other allegations had surfaced against Dowling in his 49-year career.

In a written statement, Farrell said the church had offered assistance to the sisters in what she called "such a painful and difficult situation."

The church's inquiry is being led by a former FBI agent, Jack Rossiter. In recent days he has interviewed both sisters and contacted Dowling, who hired two lawyers, according to two people with knowledge of the case who asked not to be identified.

Rossiter, citing church and grand-jury secrecy rules, declined to comment last week.

He is to submit his findings to an archdiocesan review board, which in turn will make recommendations to Cardinal Justin Rigali. The cardinal, who is now in Rome to help select a new pope, has the final say on Dowling's status.

The archdiocese has said that 47 of its priests, living and dead, have been "credibly" accused of sexually abusing minors over the last 50 years.

Many priests have appeared before the grand jury, according to people with knowledge of the investigation. The D.A.'s Office has declined to say whether Dowling has been asked to testify.

No date has been set for the sisters' testimony.

Former parishioners at St. Patrick were jolted by the allegations against Dowling. They called him a "beloved" pastor and gifted orator.

Jim Golden of Paoli recalled that, two days after the World Trade Center attacks, on a designated National Day of Prayer, Dowling urged his congregation not to hate the perpetrators. "There was not a dry eye in the church," Golden said.

"I love the guy," said Tom Mazza, 46, of Queen Village, who has known Dowling for two decades and considers him a friend. "But I hurt for those women."

Since reading of the allegations, Mazza said, he has struggled with this question: "Can someone be a good person and do something horrible, or is everything wiped out?"

Msgr. Philip J. Dowling

Age: 75


Education: He studied at Gregorian University in Rome and earned a license in sacred theology in 1957. He earned a master's degree from Villanova University in 1960.

1957 to 1964: Assistant pastor at Corpus Christi parish in the Allegheny West section of North Philadelphia.

1957-58:Taught at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia.

1958-64:Taught theology and math at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Montgomery County.

1964-73: Executive secretary and later, executive director of the Cardinal's Commission on Human Relations, appointed by Cardinal John Krol.

1973-87:Pastor of St. Elizabeth's parish in North Philadelphia.

1987-91: Pastor of St. Louis parish in Yeadon, Delaware County.

1991-July 2004: Pastor of St. Patrick parish in Center City.

March 2005: Suspended from ministry while the archdiocese investigates sex-abuse allegations.

Source: Archdiocese of Philadelphia