Reverend Robert F. Bower
Diocese of Erie
Arrest on Felony Charges: 1999 (charges later dropped)
Leave of Absence: 1999 – 2001
Assigned as follows:
- 1959 – 1964 Gannon University (Erie, PA)
- 1964 – 1970 Our Lady of the Lake (Edinboro, PA)
- 1970 – 1993 Newman Center, Edinboro University
- 1992 – 1999 St. Anthony (Cambridge Springs, PA)
- 1992 Private Residence (Edinboro, PA)
- 1993 – 1998 Our Lady of the Lake (Edinboro, PA)
- 2001 Holy Rosary (Johnsonburg, PA)
Summary of Allegations against Reverend Robert F. Bower:
When the case of Reverend Robert F. Bower appeared before the Grand Jury, it was his testimony that most disturbed the court. When the attorney for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania examined Bower as to whether he had ever had sexual contact with a child under the age of eighteen, Bower replied, “What am I supposed to say?… I’ll go to jail.”
In 1981, while serving as janitors for Edinboro University’s Newman Center, a group of seventh-grade children discovered child pornography in Bower’s office. Specifically, his computer and desk. One of the children, now an adult, testified before the Grand Jury of the event in question alleging they found pictures and pamphlets illustrating sexual intercourse between children and adults. The witness claimed to have immediately reported the incident to his mother, a woman who worked within the diocese at the time.
The mother in question worked for the diocese beginning in 1977, and in 1981, days after she and two other mothers reported the children’s unsavory discovery to officials of the church, she was fired without explanation. Several years following this event the mother found it nearly impossible to acquire work within the state of Pennsylvania and believed the Diocese of Erie to be orchestrating against her.
Later, Bower’s secretary banded with these three women after coming across child pornography in her employer’s office. The secretary testified to a Grand Jury that she hid the evidence in her attic fearing one of the many children who frequented Bower’s office may find it. She kept the evidence for years, hoping someday someone would believe her claims.
The group of female coworkers first approached Father Doleski with their findings; then they were sent off his recommendation to Bishop Murphy who postponed the meeting for weeks until the ladies threatened to reach out to the media in regards to Bower’s misconduct. It was not the intention of the women for Bower to be punished, what they desired was that Bower receive clinical help for his connection to child pornography. After their meeting with Murphy, the women claimed to have left the office in tears after Murphy preached at them claiming they were ruining Bower and the church. Bower’s secretary maintained her job at the Diocese but was barred from any form of promotion and feared the Diocese would destroy her life if she proceeded further with the allegation.
Bower never received any punishment at the hands of the Diocese.
Years later, in 1999 when Bower sent his computer to a local repair shop, the repairman found child pornography found on the device and alerted police. Both Bower, as well as an officer of the local police department, testified before the Grand Jury confirming the event and the existence of child pornography found at the time. Since then, the evidence was destroyed.
Criminal charges were filed against Bower in 1999 but were later dropped due to improper treatment of evidence, a technicality that would have made conviction impossible, despite the fact that Bower admitted to possessing it.
During the criminal investigation, the four ladies mentioned above also ook their collection of Bower’s pornography to the local police hoping justice would be served. It was not. Nothing came from this evidence other than the material being destroyed.
Bower’s lawyer claimed Bower accidentally received the pornographic images in an email.
In 2001, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the criminal charges against Bower alleging state police contaminated the evidence by logging on to Bower’s computer before creating a secure copy of what was on Bower’s hard drive at the time of his initial arrest.
In 2002, Erie Catholic Bishop Donald W. Trautman stated Bower was a “priest in good standing… I have no other allegations against him. I can’t do anything. I think the past is the past at this point in terms of the bishop’s intervention in this case.”
That same year, three of the women who blew the whistle on Bower’s predelictions were featured in a story in the Erie Times-News. They told their truth. The Bishop called them a liar and said, “there is no evidence to support such an outrageous claim.” The women later sued Bishop Trautman and the Diocese of Erie for defamation. They lost the case after a judge ruled that the statements made did not rise to the level of defamation, adding they were merely “unnecessarily harsh.”
However, in April 2018, Bower’s name appeared on the list of priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct. He was deemed a danger to children and unfit for ministry as a result of possession of child pornography and his admission to possessing it.
Trautman stands by his statements about the women and recently told reporters that the dismissal of the defamation lawsuit is proof that he was in the right. “You my have people who might not want to accept the reality,” he said of the women in November 2018.
When brought before the Grand Jury in 2016, Bower denied the material found on his computer was his and speculated how the pornography came to be on his computer. He also downplayed the amount of material on his computer.
Bower is now retired and resides in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. According to the Diocese of Erie, he is forbidden to function as a priest. His level of daily supervision is unknown.
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