Priest Admits St. Johns Molesting Investigation Leads to Resignation As Pastor in Pensacola

Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL)
September 9, 2003

A Catholic priest at a Pensacola church has admitted molesting a boy in Northeast Florida more than 30 years ago, church officials said.

Monsignor Richard J. Bowles, 74, acknowledged the incident after someone contacted church officials and they began an investigation, a spokesman for the Pensacola-Tallahassee diocese said.

Because of the admission, Bowles resigned as pastor at St. Michael, a historic church in downtown Pensacola where he had served for about 25 years.

Church officials did not release details about the incident, and the diocese spokesman, Monsignor Michael Mooney, did not return phone calls from the Times-Union yesterday. Mooney said earlier their information came from someone unrelated to the victim.

The Pensacola News-Journal reported the molestation happened 34 years ago in St. Augustine.

Bowles was a priest in Jacksonville in the 1960s and was involved in founding Holy Spirit Catholic Church on Fort Caroline Road. A church history lists him as the first administrator -- essentially its pastor -- celebrating Mass in 1966 at the Beacon Hills clubhouse before the present church was constructed.

Bowles taught at Bishop Kenny High School and 'was very well respected by the clergy,' said Monsignor James Heslin, the current pastor at Holy Spirit.

'He was very well-known and came from a prominent family,' Heslin said. 'He was a very pleasant individual, a happy individual.'

Bowles, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, had been a priest for 42 years. He will not be permitted to be involved in ministry, under church policies designed to protect children, Mooney said.

The St. Augustine diocese was not involved in investigating the molestation charge.

'Caught us completely by surprise,' said Rev. Ralph Besendorfer, judicial vicar for the diocese. 'It's a sad thing to hear about it, and we'll keep Monsignor Bowles in our prayers, as well as the young man who apparently was molested at that time.'

It wasn't clear yesterday whether criminal charges are possible.

Messages to prosecutors in the 7th Judicial Circuit, which includes St. Augustine, were not returned yesterday afternoon. A prosecutor in Jacksonville said late yesterday afternoon that any questions about the existence of an investigation in Jacksonville should be directed to police, whose sex crimes detectives were not immediately available.


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