Local Priest Barred from Ministry after Abuse Investigation

By Theresa Hegel
July 5, 2012

(file photo) Rev. John Bowe, formerly of St. Joseph's Warrington

A longtime Bucks County Catholic priest will be permanently barred from ministry after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia substantiated allegations of inappropriate conduct.

The Rev. John Bowe, 64, who served at St. Agnes in Sellersville and St. Joseph in Warrington, was found unsuitable for ministry because of “boundary” and “behavioral” problems, not sexual assault, according to a release from the archdiocese.

The Rev. David Givey, another priest in the archdiocese, also will be barred from ministry.

But four other priests who were under investigation were found to be suitable for ministry, with the claims against them unsubstantiated, including two priests with local connections: Msgr. John Close, 68, and the Rev. Leonard Peterson, 70.

Close had been accused of sexual abuse of a minor. Among other postings, he served at Archbishop Wood High School from 1990 to 1994, was an administrator at the Regina Coeli Residence for Priests in Warminster from 1991 to 1994, and served at Saint Michael the Archangel in Levittown from 1994 to 1996.

Peterson, who had been accused of behavior and boundary problems, had a short stint at St. Isidore in Quakertown (1983) and served at Lansdale Catholic High School from 1983 to 1986 and Saint Maria Goretti in Hatfield from 1997 to 2011.

The Rev. Paul Castellani and the Rev. Steven Harris were determined to be suitable for ministry as well.

The archdiocese’s investigations came after a February 2011 grand jury report on priest child molestation. At the time, the Philadelphia archdiocese suspended 21 priests pending an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse or other improper behavior.

First, each case was submitted to the local district attorney’s office to receive clearance to be investigated by the archdiocese.

Information provided by the archdiocese Friday does not indicate at which parish allegations against the priests were made. Bucks District Attorney David Heckler said his office was not notified about Bowe or Close by the archdiocese.

The archdiocese said it employed more than 20 experts in child abuse, reviewed more than 400,000 pages of relevant documents, interviewed 227 witnesses and conducted numerous visits to parishes and schools where incidents were said to have occurred.

The Archdiocesan Review Board received results of the investigation and made a recommendation to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who made the final decision on the priests’ status.

Bowe and Givey have the right to appeal the decision, according to the archdiocese.

Bowe was ordained in 1973. He served at St. Agnes in Sellersville from 1989 to 2005 and at St. Joseph in Warrington from 2005 until he was placed on administrative leave last year.

Representatives from St. Agnes did not return a call seeking comment by Friday afternoon, but the church’s website describes Bowe as having “faith, energy and sense of humor.”

“Although deeply devoted and respectful of all his parishioners, Father Bowe is probably the first priest in St. Agnes’ history to be seen chasing the parish children with his oversized water gun,” according to an online overview of the church's history.

The Rev. Joseph C. Bordonaro, pastor at St. Joseph, said he and other church leaders will be working to help parishioners handle the news.

“I think as a parish community we’re trying to heal,” he said. “We’re praying for all the victims. We’re praying for Father Bowe. We’re praying for our community to use this as a moment to restore our faith.”

He added that St. Joseph had been expecting some kind of announcement from the archdiocese after Bowe was put on leave, but not necessarily the news that he would be barred from ministry.

“News like this brings out all kinds of responses from people,” Bordonaro said. “The first one is shock. We have to see beyond that.”

Theresa Hegel: 215-538-6381; email: or Twitter: @theresahegel








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