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Spotlight Report

Group calls on O'Malley to review the past of indicted priest

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 8/6/2003

The nation's largest organization of victims of abuse by priests yesterday called on newly installed Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley to investigate whether a former Fall River priest now under indictment for abusing a girl in the 1960s may have molested other youths in his later church assignments.

In a letter to O'Malley released yesterday, the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests said it had "grave concerns" for the safety of children in the remote villages of Bolivia where the Rev. Donald P. Bowen spent 30 years as a priest, and in the Fall River Diocese, where he served for nine years.

"What will be done to reach out to men and women in the Fall River diocese who may have been hurt by Father Bowen? Even more important, what will be done to reach out to potential victims in Bolivia?" Ann Hagan Webb and William Gately, the New England coordinators of SNAP, wrote to O'Malley.

In an interview, Webb said she hoped that since O'Malley has spoken passionately on behalf of victims of clergy abuse that he would do "everything possible" to determine whether Bowen had molested other youths.

O'Malley could not be reached for comment. The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for O'Malley, said that the archdiocese had not received the letter from SNAP and would have no comment.Bowen was charged last September with two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14. The abuse allegedly took place in the late 1960s and early '70s, after he had befriended the girl's family while serving as assistant pastor of St. Mary's Church in Norton. In 1994, the alleged victim, then in her 30s, approached O'Malley, who was bishop of the Fall River Diocese, told him about Bowen, and asked him to make certain that the priest did not have access to children in his assignment as a missionary in Bolivia, where he had gone to work in 1973.

O'Malley told the Globe in early July that he had responded to the woman's complaint by directing the St. James Society, which ran the Bolivian mission, to prohibit Bowen from having access to children and to remove him from all forms of ministry while in Bolivia. But officials of the society, in Globe interviews last month, said O'Malley had only asked that Bowen be kept away from children. Bowen, they said, had been allowed to conduct Masses as usual until 2002 when he was indicted by a Bristol County grand jury.

Bowen's attorney, Peter J. Muse of Quincy, said yesterday that there had been no allegations of abuse involving Bowen during his years as a priest in Bolivia and at other churches in the Fall River Diocese. "We are dealing with a single allegation of abuse, and no other," Muse said.

This story ran on page B8 of the Boston Globe on 8/6/2003.
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