Massachusetts Prosecutor Lists Names of 21 Alleged Abusive Priests

By Daniel Barbarisi
Providence Journal-Bulletin
September 27, 2002

FALL RIVER, Mass. _ Bristol, Mass., District. Attorney Paul F. Walsh on Thursday announced the indictment of one priest formerly of the Fall River Diocese on charges of sexual abuse. At the same time, Walsh took the unusual step of releasing the names of all 21 Diocesean priests known to be accused of sexual abuse in the last 50 years, although his office has not brought criminal charges against any of them.

The accusations refer to sexual assaults that allegedly took place in the Fall River Diocese in the last 20 to 50 years. The statute of limitations has expired on most of the cases, and in several others, the accusers declined to press charges.

The only exception was the case of Donald J. Bowen, 64, who has been out of the country for more than 30 years _ voiding the statute of limitations, which freezes when one leaves the state.

Bowen was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday on one count of unnatural and lascivious acts on a person under the age of 16 years, and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14.

Since his departure from the Fall River Diocese in 1971, Bowen has spent the last three decades serving as a missionary in Bolivia. His accuser brought her allegations to Walsh this March, at which time his office demanded the Fall River Diocese provide the names of all priests accused in the last 50 years.

Walsh said he knew his decision to release the names would bring him under fire, but said it was the only way to strike back at these alleged offenders.

"By releasing this list of names, we let the public know that we cannot and will not be a party to this pretension," he said.

He said he was also hoping that if media outlets ran the list, it would encourage other potential victims to come forward with intent to prosecute, giving him the chance to charge some of the half-dozen priests whose statute of limitations may not have run out.

"The shroud of secrecy has gone on long enough . . . I cannot, and will not pretend we do not know these names," Walsh said.

Walsh believes he was vindicated in his decision to release the list of names to the Fall River Herald News on Wednesday, because after its publication Thursday morning, his office received calls from victims alleging additional abuse by several of the priests named.

He could not yet say whether these new accusations would lead to more indictments.

Most of the names on the list were gleaned from church records, the result of accusations made directly to the diocese over the last 50 years. Several others were reported to the district attorney's office. Some of the accusations were made as recently as this past summer.

In some cases, the priests named were accused by only one person with no interest in pressing charges. In two others instances, the priests are deceased. None are currently in priestly ministry, and several of the priests named have settled out of court with the victims.

Walsh also struck out at the Diocese of Fall River, which he accused of witholding information about accusations made to the Diocese until the district attorney's office specifically and directly asked for them.

"There was some cooperation, but it came like pulling teeth," Walsh said. "These names have been sat on for at least 10 years, possibly 12."

The diocese has touted itself as a church leader on dealing with child sexual abuse since the arrival of Bishop Sean P. O'Malley in 1992, in the wake of revelations that priest James Porter had abused dozens of area youths. It released a statement Thursday denying that it had dragged its feet in any way on releasing the names and saying the diocese in fact took the lead in offering all the names to Walsh.

"In March of this year, Bishop O'Malley took the initiative in offering to the District Attorney the names of priests against whom allegations of sexual misconduct had been made . . .. From the beginning, the Diocese pledged its full cooperation with the District Attorney; at no time did the District Attorney have to threaten or cajole," the statement reads.

"Had public officials asked for past records at any time, the Diocese would have made them available," it continues.

Diocese spokesman John Kearns said no one from the district attorney's office had told the church that the names of the accused would be released. He learned from reading the Herald News on Thursday morning.

"I was very surprised to see that," said Kearns, who declined to comment on either how the diocese felt about the release of names or on how it would react to Walsh's actions.

In Bowen's case, Walsh said he is set to begin extradition proceedings to bring the priest back from Bolivia, where he is in the service of the Boston-based Missionary Society of St. James. Yesterday morning, however, attorney Peter Muse of the Boston firm of Muse & Muse contacted Walsh and said that he is representing Bowen, and his client intends to return to the United States to stand trial.

Sources at both the district attorney's office and at the diocese also confirmed that soon after the investigation began in March, Bowen was suspended from his position.

Bowen was first ordained in the Fall River Diocese in the early 1960s. He served in the town of Norton, where he allegedly began a six-year period of sexual abuse on one 9-year-old female in 1965. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted of both charges.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.