Public never informed of sexual misconduct claims against priest
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent correspondent
April 2, 2016
GALLUP – Eight months after the Diocese of Gallup filed its Chapter 11 petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, another priest in the diocese was accused of sexual misconduct in July 2014.
In many other Catholic dioceses, that accusation would have generated an announcement to Catholic parishioners and a news release to the general public. After an investigation, the diocese would issue another news release explaining if the allegation had been found to be unsubstantiated or whether it was deemed to be credible.
That’s a “best practice” scenario, according to what Gallup Bishop James S. Wall said in an interview in September 2009, just months after he was installed as Gallup’s Roman Catholic bishop.
But that’s a practice Wall has not followed in at least a half-dozen cases where diocesan, religious order or visiting international priests suddenly disappeared from their ministry assignments with no explanation to local Catholics or news releases to the public.
In the case of the July 2014 allegations, the Gallup Diocese has been silent until this week. On Friday, the diocese responded to questions raised by a police report obtained by the Gallup Independent.
The Rev. Eugene R. Bowski is the accused priest. In a McKinley County Sheriff’s Office report from July 2014, two allegations were made against Bowski, who was described as being a retired priest residing in Williams Acres and who had recently been the priest at St. Patrick’s Mission, located south of Gallup.
The report was made by two individuals from out of state who were serving as volunteers in the diocese. One was reportedly the Safe Environment trainer at their home parish. According to the report, Bowski had allegedly sexually propositioned a young man, and Bowski had allegedly exhibited grooming behaviors toward the young man when he was a minor. The second allegation was that Bowski was spending unsupervised, one-on-one time with a boy younger than 10.
In addition to filing a report with the sheriff’s office, the two volunteers called in a report to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department and also reported the allegations to the Rev. Kevin Finnegan, then the vicar general for the Diocese of Gallup.
The Gallup Independent does not identify alleged victims of sex abuse without their consent. Although a family member of the young man and the mother of the minor boy were interviewed by phone, identifying them by name would compromise the youths’ identities.
Bowski, however, commented about the allegations in several phone conversations this week.
One mother’s support
According to Bowski, he did nothing inappropriate in either situation, and he said the mother of the young boy had even written a letter of support for him. When contacted Wednesday, Bowski said he had just had a phone conversation with the mother earlier in the morning and would ask her to call and offer her comments.
Later that day, a woman, who identified herself as the child’s mother, called and said she did not believe anything inappropriate had happened between Bowski and her son. She said she allowed her child to participate in a forensic interview, which she believes was arranged by diocesan officials.
“They did not find any evidence of abuse,” she said. “They told me that nothing had happened.”
The woman said she only left her son alone with Bowski “maybe one time,” and other times she was nearby to frequently check on her child or he was accompanied by an older sibling.
Bowski said he only remembered being alone with the child once and that was when the mother asked him to transport the boy in his car.
Other family’s view
Bowski does not have that same support from the other family. According to the sheriff’s office report, officers questioned the young man and one of his close family members. Both claimed Bowski sexually propositioned the alleged victim, but the young man rebuffed the priest’s request and immediately went home and reported the incident to his family.
The sheriff’s office closed the case because no criminal activity took place since the alleged victim was not a minor.
When contacted Tuesday, that family member expressed anger at Bowski. The individual stated Bowski had befriended the young man for a number of years while he was still a minor, and stated they believed Bowski used that friendship as a pretext to groom him for abuse.
Bowski, however, has a different perspective.
“He was an adult at the time,” Bowski said when asked about the July 2014 incident. “He wasn’t a child. It’s not against the law.”
“I have always said he misunderstood me,” Bowski added, “and I maintain that.”
Bowski also disputed that he had ever tried to groom the young man for abuse. He said he just tried to befriend the youth and offer him assistance with opportunities.
“I don’t think it’s criminal to be someone’s friend,” Bowski said.
Restrictions by bishop
According to Bowski, he doesn’t know why the Diocese of Gallup never publicly announced the allegations made against him.
“I would be interested in the answer to that too,” he said.
Under restrictions imposed by the bishop, Bowski said he can no longer celebrate Mass publicly like other retired priests. However, Bowski said, he believes he might be able to do so if he moved to another diocese.
“The case against me isn’t even flimsy,” he said. “It doesn’t even rise to that standard.”
In an email Friday, Suzanne Hammons, the diocese’s spokeswoman, addressed both allegations. Regarding the minor child, she said, the diocese retained an outside firm that conducted an independent investigation.
“No further claims nor evidence of criminal activity, including no claims of any abuse or attempted abuse of minors was discovered and none have been made since the 2014 incident,” she said.
As to the allegations by the young man, Hammons said, “While Fr. Bowski’s actions with respect to this adult male may not have been illegal, these actions were contrary to his position and obligations as a priest. Fr. Bowski’s faculties have been withdrawn and he is not ministering nor working in any capacity in the Diocese nor will he be allowed to do so.”
Hammons did not explain why the Gallup Diocese did not inform the public about the allegations, the results of the investigations or the removal of Bowski’s priestly faculties. Nor did she explain why the diocese no longer posts its Pastoral Code of Ethics on its website for public review.
The Rev. James Connell, a retired priest with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a church canon lawyer, has become a national advocate for clergy sex abuse victims and survivors.
When contacted Thursday, Connell said church law doesn’t just look at an incident of sexual abuse by itself, but also considers the entire grooming period that led up to the abuse incident. For that reason, he said, officials with the Diocese of Gallup should take a closer look at whether the alleged grooming in this case took place while the young man was still a minor.
“It is seen as one continuous action,” he explained.
In an email Friday, Connell said Catholic bishops “committed to openness and transparency with the public” in matters of clergy sexual abuse when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
“Any diocesan bishop who does not fulfill the commitment made in the Charter contributes to scandal in the community because the bishop’s behavior encourages people to lose trust in the moral leadership of the bishop that in turn can lead to people altering the practice of their faith,” Connell said. “And the creation of scandal is against divine law and church law.”
Hammons said the Gallup Diocese takes the “protection and well-being of all children, young people, and adults very seriously, and in this case the Charter and all legal and ethical guidelines were followed” by church officials.