Tuesday, September 14, 2010

9 Women Complain About Pastor

Sexual abuse allegations .. were made about the late Donald Davis, a former Episcopalian bishop.

By Sheila Boughner for The Derrick (Oil City, PA)

Rowe Rowe Nine women have come forward to say they were sexually abused or sexually harassed by a former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, bishop of the Erie-based diocese and former rector of St. John Episcopal Church in Franklin, announced in early July that four women had made credible allegations that as girls they were sexually abused by the late Donald Davis, bishop of the diocese from 1974- 91.

Rowe asked any other women who may be have been abused by Davis to come forward, and quickly heard from five more women.

Rowe said in mid-July that he would provide an update on the situation at the end of the summer, and in a letter to the members of the diocese’s 34 churches released Sunday, Rowe said no additional women have come forward.

Of the five women who did come forward, three said they were sexually abused by Davis when they were girls and two others said they were “harassed and intimidated” by Davis when they were adults, Rowe said.

According to the initial allegations, two of the girls were abused at a diocesan summer camp in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and two were abused repeatedly over a period of years. Rowe said in an interview that the girls were about 10 at the time of the alleged incidents.

“I have had conversations with all five of the women who contacted me since my invitation in early July, and they have told me their only interest in coming forward has been in helping me arrive at a fuller picture of the scope of Bishop Davis’s abuse,” Rowe said in his letter Sunday.

He said he has also been in contact with the bishops of other dioceses where Davis served as a priest or lived in retirement and will speak further with those bishops at this week’s House of Bishops meeting in Phoenix, Ariz.

Rowe urged any others who may have been victimized by Davis to come forward.

Rowe wrote that while he cannot undo the past, he can do his best “to ensure that this diocese continues to tell the truth and seek healing and reconciliation for those who have been harmed.”

“I believe that our diocese now has a particular responsibility to observe the highest possible standards in dealing with the issue of sexual misconduct,” Rowe wrote.

He said the diocese is intensifying the education and training of all clergy, staff and volunteers who work with children and has strengthened its misconduct policy.

“Even as we seek healing for the past, we will also dedicate ourselves to ensuring that the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania is a place where children are respected and nurtured, where people can come with their deepest wounds and vulnerabilities and be safe, and where we show the power of God’s love to all among whom we live and serve,” Rowe wrote.

When he first announced the abuse claims in July, Rowe indicated that while church officials were aware of the allegations against Davis as early as 1993 and removed Davis as bishop in 1994, the matter was never made public, possibly because several of the women specifically asked that their situations not be revealed.

Rowe, however, decided to take the matter public.

“Christians tell the truth,” he said in an interview. “That’s what we need to be doing. Repentance means that when you are in the wrong, you have to make amends and be willing to change. And we can t do that unless we name what we have done.”

Davis, who died in 2007 at the age of 78, was born in New Castle, but was raised in Frederick, Md., before returning to northwestern Pennsylvania to attend Westminster College.

He graduated from Westminster in 1949 and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1952. He was ordained in 1955 and later received a master’s degree from Bowling Green University and an honorary doctorate from Westminster.

He served in several dioceses in Washington, Indianapolis and Ohio before he was elected the sixth bishop of the Northwest Pennsylvania diocese.

The diocese covers 13 counties in northwest Pennsylvania and includes St. John Episcopal Church in Franklin, Christ Church in Oil City, Christ Church in Meadville, St. James Church in Titusville, Church of the Epiphany in Grove City and Memorial Church of Our Father in Foxburg.

Rowe, who at 35 is the youngest bishop in the Episcopal Church, was rector at St. John’s in Franklin for seven years prior to becoming bishop of the diocese in 2007. He also served on the Franklin School Board.

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