Hearing Set for Priest Accused of Abuse

By Ralph Ranalli
Boston Globe [Norton MA]
July 14, 2005

In a rare case of a clergyman facing criminal charges for alleged sexual misconduct that occurred decades ago, a priest who served a Norton parish is expected to plead guilty tomorrow to charges that he raped and molested a local girl beginning when she was 9 years old.

Bristol County prosecutors allege that the Rev. Donald Bowen raped the girl over a seven-year period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he was stationed at St. Mary's Parish.

Under the statute of limitations for rape cases, prosecutors would have ordinarily been barred from bringing charges when the victim came forward to authorities in the late 1990s, but Bowen froze the clock by moving to Bolivia to pursue missionary work in 1972. Bowen, 67, left active ministry and returned to Massachusetts in 2002 after learning that charges had been filed against him.

Bristol District Attorney Paul F. Walsh confirmed the scheduled plea hearing yesterday and said that prosecutors would "absolutely be recommending jail time, no matter what," for Bowen.

"I think this guy should go to jail for what he did to a little girl," Walsh said. "If these abuses occurred more recently, he would be facing multiple counts of rape and he would be looking at serious jail time."

Bowen's defense lawyer, Peter Muse of Boston, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ann Hagan Webb, New England cocoordinator for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the case shows that state lawmakers should repeal the statute of limitations for child rape cases. The vast majority of cases that surfaced during the clergy sex abuse scandal could not be pursued criminally by prosecutors because the 15-year statute of limitations had passed, she said.

Webb praised the woman in the case, now 50 years old, who has not come forward publicly but who is expected to speak at the plea hearing. "She is a very strong woman; I have the utmost respect for her," Webb said.

The woman reported her allegations to the Diocese of Fall River in the early 1990s, and reached a civil settlement in 1992. Fall River's bishop at the time, Sean P. O'Malley, who now leads the Boston Archdiocese, contacted the order Bowen worked with in Bolivia and asked that he be barred from working with children.

"If the same case came to light today, the priest would have been removed totally from ministry," said John Kearns, a spokesman for the diocese.