Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another woman reports abuse by Episcopal bishop

Published: July 13. 2010 1:15AM
Another woman reports abuse by Episcopal bishop

The 10-year-old girl was scared.

Earlier in the day, the bishop had stuck his tongue in her mouth under water in the pool at the church camp.

Then he'd asked her to go to his cabin and help him pack. She'd decided to avoid him and could hear him asking about her as she hid in the bushes.

"After hearing what has happened to the other girls I am very glad I never went to his cabin that night as I am sure what my fate would have been," the girl, now a woman, wrote in an e-mail to the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania in which she alleged abuse by Bishop Donald Davis.

She sent the letter Monday to the Right Rev. Sean Rowe, bishop of the Erie-based diocese, in response to his request to hear from victims of Davis, a former bishop of the diocese.

Rowe, in a letter read Sunday in churches within the 13-county diocese, announced that Davis had sexually abused four girls, two of them at the diocesan summer camp, when they were around age 10 in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Rowe apologized for what Davis did. The current bishop said he went public with the news because it was important for the healing process.

"I'm glad they have a bishop now that's owning up to it," the woman who sent the e-mail told the Erie Times-News.

The day after the revelation about Davis, Rowe wasn't saying whether he had received any calls or e-mails from other victims.

Rowe said Monday that he didn't want to comment yet on whether more had come forward. He said that when he feels it is appropriate, he will let people know if the diocese heard from other victims.

Rowe wouldn't confirm whether he had received the e-mail the woman said she sent Monday. She forwarded a copy to the Erie Times-News, which has a policy not to identify victims of sexual assault. She called the newspaper, but requested anonymity.

In her e-mail, she asked Rowe not to use her name publicly. She thanked him for what he was doing and said she has never gotten over what happened, despite years of counseling.

"It has scarred me," the woman told the Erie Times-News by telephone.

She said that what happened with the bishop turned her away from the Episcopal Church.

"I do believe in God, but I don't believe in organized religion," she said.

The woman said she told her mother about what took place at the camp and that Davis gave them a few hundred dollars.

Davis, who was bishop of the diocese from 1974 to 1991, died in August 2007 in Florida.

Rowe said he learned of the abuse when a victim called him in March. That led to an investigation through which he learned of the other allegations. He said some church officials knew about the abuse in the 1990s, when Davis was removed as a bishop.

Rowe won't reveal details about victims or the nature of the abuse, citing their privacy.

He also declined to say if the March caller told him why she was alerting him to the abuse then. Rowe has been bishop since September 2007.

He said his announcement was made this month because he wanted to make sure that a thorough and responsible investigation had been completed first.

"We did choose Sunday so the people in our congregations could hear it in the pastoral letter from me following liturgies," Rowe said.

He said feedback on his decision to announce the abuse has been positive.

"The people that I have heard from ... have been pleased with our decision to make this public and do the right thing," he said.

Rowe said victims can contact him confidentially at 456-4203 or bishop@dionwpa.org.

The woman who e-mailed Monday received a response from Rowe thanking her for her courage in sharing the story with him. He also offered to meet with her in person or talk by phone.

She declined, saying there wasn't anything left to discuss and that she prays for the others affected by Davis and hopes the church continues its attempts to make things right.

"I will follow this story closely and carry no shame in this matter as the shame lays completely on the Bishop himself, and those who knew and did nothing," she wrote.

Davis was ordained a priest in 1955 and served dioceses in Washington, D.C., Indiana and Ohio before being elected the sixth bishop of the Erie-based diocese in 1973, according to a story on the Episcopal Church's website at the time of his death.

In 1977 in Indianapolis, Davis ordained the first official female priest in the Episcopal Church, according to stories in Time and Episcopal archives. He was a last-minute substitute for a bishop who was hospitalized, according to a story on Episcopal Life Online. Davis had been among the bishops who sponsored a resolution to allow women to be ordained in the Church.

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