Episcopal Bishop in Erie Announces No More Sexual Abuse Claims Received

By Dana Massing
Erie Times-News
September 13, 2010

Within days of a July revelation that a former local Episcopal bishop had sexually abused four young girls, five more victims came forward.

The Right Rev. Sean Rowe, current bishop of the Erie-based Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, said Sunday he has received no additional reports of abuse by the Rev. Donald Davis.

In a letter released Sunday, Rowe said the number of abuse victims stands at nine.

"If there are other victims who are still considering whether to come forward, I urge them to contact me," Rowe wrote in his most recent letter.

The abuse was first made public in a pastoral letter from Rowe read July 11 in the 13-county diocese's 34 churches. Rowe revealed that Davis, who led the diocese from 1974 to 1991, had sexually abused four girls around age 10 in the 1970s and 1980s. Davis died in 2007.

Rowe asked other victims to contact him.

In a July 13 statement, Rowe said he had heard from other women and then knew of "the possibility of more than five additional complaints."

He said Sunday that the number turned out to be five.

Of the nine total, seven were sexually abused as girls, Rowe said in his letter Sunday. Two were harassed and intimidated as adults, he wrote.

"I have had conversations with all five of the women who contacted me since my invitation in early July, and they have told me that their only interest in coming forward has been in helping me arrive at a fuller picture of the scope of Bishop Davis' abuse," Rowe wrote. "I want to thank them for their courage and to apologize to them once again for the abuse visited on them in what should have been an atmosphere of safety and love."

Rowe said his new letter, posted Sunday on the diocese's website and given to clergy to distribute as they saw fit, fulfilled a pledge he made to provide an update at the end of summer.

"As I wrote in my initial letter, I cannot undo the grievous wrongs that Bishop Davis has done, nor take away the pain of his victims, but I can do my best to ensure that this diocese continues to tell the truth and seek healing and reconciliation for those who have been harmed," Rowe said in the new letter.

He said that announcement was made "to continue our commitment to be transparent."

One of the women who contacted Rowe after his July 11 announcement also contacted the Erie Times-News. The newspaper has a policy not to identify victims of sexual assault.

The woman, who said Davis forcibly French kissed her in a pool when she was 10, said she was glad that the diocese now has a bishop who is "owning up to" the abuse by Davis.

However, she more recently said she's concerned that nothing has happened to other church leaders who learned of the abuse.

Rowe has said that the abuse was reported to the office of a prior presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church. Rowe only learned of it earlier this year.

He said in Sunday's letter that he has contacted bishops of other dioceses in which Davis served as a priest or lived in retirement "so that they could pursue this matter as they saw fit."


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