The Rev. R. Peter Bowman, a retired Chicago Archdiocese administrator and former pastor of Arlington Heights’ St. James Church, was relieved of his duties as a priest amid allegations of sexual misconduct with a teenage boy 45 years ago, parishioners were told Sunday.
Bowman, who left St. James in 1995 to become an archdiocese administrator and retired in 2001, was one of the church’s most beloved priests and is credited with steering the parish’s exponential growth during his 17-year tenure.
He was one of two priests removed by the archdiocese Sunday.
Bowman, 73, had been living at St. Teresa Avila Church in Chicago, but now is in a private house and monitored by Archdiocese of Chicago. He was not available for comment Sunday.
The archdiocese also is monitoring the Rev. Donald Mulsoff, who was removed from ministry at St. Celestine in Chicago. Mulsoff is accused of sexual misconduct more than 25 years ago with minors at St. Catherine Alexandria Church in Oak Lawn and Mary, Queen of Heaven Church in Cicero, archdiocese officials said.
In both cases, allegations were reviewed by officials at the archdiocese and deemed credible, said Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Incidents involving both priests were reported to the Cook County State’s Attorney, and Dwyer said he’s not aware that any charges have been filed.
The allegation against Bowman was reported by the victim in April to the archdiocese, and the archdiocese told St. James officials about it Friday.
Parishioners and clergy at St. James reacted with shock to the news Sunday. Many left in tears after Sunday services where it was announced.
Counselors from the archdiocese were on hand, and parishioners are invited to a meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the church, 820 N. Arlington Heights Road, to talk about the issue and pray.
“This is no easy thing for any of us,” the Rev. William J. Zavaski, St. James’ pastor, said during an 11 a.m. Mass in St. James’ Bowman Center, which is named for the former pastor.
“I think everybody here is devastated,” Zavaski said after the service. “We are all hurting and pained.”
Bowman, whom Zavaski described as a friend, was ordained a priest in May 1955. The allegation of sexual misconduct stems from when he was an associate pastor at St. Denis on Chicago’s south side.
Bowman was pastor at St. James from 1978 until 1995. Zavaski took over when Bowman went to work as vicar for the administration for the archdiocese.
Bowman also is pastor emeritus at St. James, but Zavaski doesn’t know what Bowman’s future involvement in the parish will be.
“I know he’s a legend at St. James,” said member Mike Kelly of Arlington Heights.
Zavaski said it was because of Bowman that the parish has doubled in size in the last 30 years. It now serves more than 4,500 families.
Two weeks ago, Bowman got a standing ovation at a special Mass to celebrate the church’s 100th anniversary, Zavaski said.
“I think Peter saw an incredible growth here because of his influences in creating a community,” Zavaski said.
“He was probably one of the more significant priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago. He gave his life to this place.”
Zavaski said he doesn’t want to know the details of the incident. But, if it is true, Bowman should be forgiven, Zavaski said.
“The issue here is priests are human and we have made mistakes like everybody else,” Zavaski said.
Some parishioners reacted with disbelief.
Kelly noted that allegations against the late Cardinal Bernardin proved to be untrue. In 1993, Steven Cook accused Bernardin of sexually abusing him in Cincinnati. The charges were later dropped when Cook recanted his story.
“It’s like everyone has gotten him tried and guilty,” Kelly said.
Mark Vottero of Mount Prospect said the true story hasn’t come out yet.
Vottero said the stories of priests across the country being accused of sexual misconduct with children haven’t shaken his faith in the Catholic Church.
“People are hurt deeply, but I think it’s a very small percentage. It doesn’t speak for the majority of priests,” he said.
Zavaski, who said he gets letters of support weekly since the national crisis in the Church came to light, said it has shaken people’s faith in relationships they have with other people, particularly priests.
“As priests you feel so bad,” he said. “But, people themselves understand the value of the church and the priesthood.”
Zavaski said this case will make the June national conference of bishops in Dallas all that more personal because leaders will decide how the Church should deal with similar allegations and the priests who are accused.
Bowman is among a number of priests who have been removed from duty in the Chicago area over the past several months amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Just last month, Cardinal Francis George was at St. James to celebrate the parish’s 100th anniversary, and he spoke about creating a national policy for dealing with sex abuse by priests.