Priest Says He'll Return to Kentucky to Fight Sex-Abuse Allegations

By Deborah Yetter
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
May 31, 2002

Monsignor Robert Bowling, of Reno, Nev., told his parishioners this week that he's coming to Kentucky to fight allegations that he sexually abused two girls who were in grade school at Holy Cross parish in Marion County in the 1960s.

The two women who made the allegations in suits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville said yesterday that they are prepared for the confrontation.

"I'm ready to face him," said Janice Unseld, 54, who still lives in Holy Cross and attends the church there. "I know I'm telling the truth."

"It might be a good idea for him to come back to Holy Cross parish and face the people there," said Karen Mouser, 50, of Nelson County.

Bowling denied the allegations at a Mass in Reno on Sunday and announced he would be taking a two-week leave of absence to fight the allegations, according to the Reno GazetteJournal. The newspaper reported that Bishop Phillip Straling of the Reno diocese read a statement of support for Bowling at Bowling's St. Therese Church of the Little Flower.

Unseld and Mouser filed lawsuits last week against the Archdiocese of Louisville, alleging that Bowling sexually abused them in the early 1960s when he worked as a priest at Holy Cross, Kentucky's oldest Catholic parish.

Though news reports of similar lawsuits prompted them to act, both say the issue has troubled them since it came up several years ago in a discussion while they were planning a reunion of students at Holy Cross elementary.

"Until all this came out, I guess I never would have done anything," Unseld said. "But the more I heard, the madder I got."

Bowling, 74, who left Kentucky in 1969, didn't say during Sunday's service how he planned to challenge the allegations.

HE COULD NOT be reached for comment. Calls to his Reno parish were referred to his lawyer, John Arrascada, of Reno; Arrascada was out of his office and did not return calls yesterday.

Since April 19, nearly 100 lawsuits have been filed against the Louisville archdiocese involving allegations of sexual abuse against 15 current or former priests. The archdiocese covers 24 counties.

The lawsuits allege the archdiocese knew of sexual abuse by priests but did nothing to stop it. The suits do not offer proof of that allegation. The archdiocese has declined to comment on the lawsuits. None of the lawsuits names any alleged abuser as a defendant.

Unseld, whose lawsuit alleges Bowling sexually abused her between 1960 and 1962 when she was 11 and 12, said it didn't occur to her to tell her parents or any other adults. People in her rural community looked up to the priest, and she feared no one would believe her, she said.

While her lawsuit did not specify what occurred, Unseld said in an interview that the abuse involved touching and fondling and declined to be more specific.

"I knew it was wrong," she said. "I knew he shouldn't be touching you in places like that. I knew but I didn't know what to do."

Mouser, whose lawsuit alleges Bowling forced her to expose herself to him during confession, said he ordered her never to tell anyone.

Both Unseld and Mouser said they closely followed news accounts of abuse allegations against other priests and decided to file lawsuits so that the claims against Bowling would be public. Unseld said she was concerned about news reports of how past secrecy by church officials had shrouded previous allegations and failed to solve the problem in other cases of alleged abuse by priests.

"I could have gone to the archdiocese and got paid to keep my mouth shut, but I didn't want that," Unseld said. "I wanted his name to be known. I wanted all parents to pay attention to this so it will not happen to their children."

THE LOUISVILLE archdiocese has urged anyone with knowledge of alleged sexual abuse to contact the archdiocese.

But Mouser said she was wary of going to church officials and discussed with Unseld what to do.

"We felt like we could not trust them," Mouser said.

Cecelia Price, a spokeswoman for the Louisville archdiocese, said officials have pledged to fully investigate all allegations and are prepared to offer counseling and assistance to victims of sexual abuse.

"We do encourage people to come forward," she said. However, in Bowling's case, the archdiocese might have to refer the matter to church officials in Reno since he no longer works here, she said.

Unseld and Mouser said the matter first surfaced several years ago when they and other former students of Holy Cross elementary were planning an all-school reunion. The school closed in 1984.

Someone suggested inviting Bowling to the reunion and another person scoffed and referred to his alleged abuse of girls at the school, Unseld said.

"We didn't know that many people knew about it," Unseld said. "We thought it was just a few of us. It really was a shock."

Mouser, too, recalls that incident and said she was surprised to discover other former students knew about the alleged abuse.

But it took news reports of similar allegations to motivate Unseld and Mouser to contact a lawyer, they said.

Mouser said she spent several days trying to work up the courage to call Unseld. Unseld said she too had been preoccupied with the issue and wasn't surprised to get Mouser's call.

"THE MINUTE I heard her voice I said, 'I know what's on your mind and it's been on my mind, too,' " Unseld said.

The women talked about the matter, did research and found that Bowling is still a priest, pastor of a 3,500family parish in Reno. They talked to their families.

"I didn't want my children to be embarrassed," said Unseld, who has three adult children. "I talked it over with them and they are behind me 100 percent."

Mouser said she doesn't regret going public "even though it's hard - it's hard on your family."

Unseld said that as a child it was impossible to avoid the priest, who ran the parish and school and was frequently with the children.

"There was no getting away from him," she said. "He was at the school every day. What are you going to do?"

But both women said that as adults, they aren't afraid to speak up.

"I'm not a child anymore," Mouser said. "He cannot intimidate me."


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