Priest Pleads Not Guilty to Assault

By Steve Urbon
October 2, 2002

As criticism of the district attorney's actions in the church sexual abuse cases mounted, a former Bristol County priest pleaded not guilty in Superior Court yesterday to charges that he sexually assaulted a young girl in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The Rev. Donald J. Bowen was released on $100 personal recognizance by Judge David McLaughlin after the priest voluntarily flew back from Bolivia to appear in court. The Rev. Bowen, who once served parishes in Attleboro and Norton, has been on missionary work for 30 years -- stopping the clock on the statute of limitations, which enabled the prosecution to file charges based on decades-old incidents.

[Photo Caption - With court officer Wayne Cathcart, left, by his side, the Rev. Donald Brown pleads not guilty to two counts of sexual assault in Bristol County Superior Court yesterday. Jack Iddon/The Standard-Times]

Gray and balding, the stern-faced Rev. Bowen, 64, appeared in court wearing a blue windbreaker, a yellow shirt open at the collar, khaki pants, loafers -- and handcuffs. He spoke clearly when he twice said, "not guilty" to the charges , but otherwise did not speak either before or after his arraignment. A group of about a half-dozen supporters also left the courthouse without comment to reporters. Another man wearing religious jewelry, who appeared to be in his 60s, watched the proceedings and said only that he was a friend of Rev. Bowen.

The priest left the courthouse in a vehicle driven by his attorney, Peter Muse of Boston, an old friend of the prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea.

In court, Mr. Shea sketched out the case against Rev. Bowen. He said the priest won the confidence of the victim's household: "He was a friend of the family," he said, "and then developed a sexual relationship with the victim" from the time she was 9 until age 16. Shortly thereafter, he left for his missionary work with the Boston-based Society of St. James.

The prosecution asked the court to impose a $5,000 cash bail or $50,000 surety, but the judge was unconvinced that Rev. Bowen posed a flight risk. Instead, Rev. Bowen was ordered to have no contact, direct or indirect, with the victim or her family, and to surrender his passport and report to probation officers. A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Nov. 14.

The priest is the only one of 21 whose names were made public last week by District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr., who expressed anger and frustration at the Diocese of Fall River and Bishop Sean P. O'Malley. He said the diocese had been slow and uncooperative in providing the information about settlements involving those priests, and blamed the delay for his inability to prosecute before the statute of limitations expired.

Initially there was a flurry of praise from victims' lawyers, but that has been followed by a backlash from some of Mr. Walsh's supporters among the local bar.

Kenneth Sullivan, a defense attorney for a half century in Bristol County and now retired, said: "I came away with the firm belief that the due process clause of our Constitution, as dramatic as it may sound, is the bedrock of our society. Whenever there is intrusion for political purposes it is an outrage. And if it isn't political, people should be greatly concerned with what the district attorney understands to be his role."


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