Three decades after he left St Mary’s Church in Norton for South America, Rev. Donald Bowen is back in the U.S. facing charges he allegedly abused a young Norton girl in the 1960s.
Bowen, 64, pleaded innocent Tuesday to one count indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 and one count of committing an unnatural and lascivious act as the grand jury indictment was read in Bristol Superior Court.
Prosecutors allege Bowen, who also served at St. Patrick’s church in Somerset, befriended a Norton family, while serving as St. Mary’s associate priest in the 1960s and sexually abused their daughter over a six-year period starting when the girl was 9 years old.
“Having established a relationship with the family of the victim, he established a sexual relationship with the young victim,” Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Walter Shea said.
The abuse allegedly continued until the 1970s when Bowen went to work for the St. James Society, a Boston-based missionary society, in South America. Bowen last worked in Bolivia, before returning to New Bedford this month to face the charges against him.
Even though the reported abuse happened more than 30 years ago, the statute of limitations will not protect Bowen from prosecution because he left the country.
Under state law, the statute freezes when a defendant leaves Massachusetts. Otherwise, a defendant is only prosecutable for up to five years after a crime was committed.
Bowen was released on personal recognizance Tuesday after his lawyer, Peter Muse, argued that bail was unnecessary because the priest had traveled thousands of miles precisely so he could appear in court.
Though her name has not been released, Bowen’s alleged victim came out publicly in a local newspaper with her story last April. Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh told reporters this week the indictment was sealed with the victim’s willingness to testify.
The Diocese of Fall River settled with the victim for a sum of money in 1992.
Bowen was indicted last week about the same time the Bristol County DA’s office released the names of almost two dozen priests listed in church files as potential abusers. Shea said after the arraignment that based on the publication of those names his office has had a number of calls.
“We’re investigating every call that we get,” he said.