Police in the United States are investigating the death of a Roman Catholic priest whose body was found just days after he was accused of molesting a boy nearly 30 years ago.
Officials of the Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire called the death of the Rev Richard Lower, whose body was found on Sunday along a hiking trail, an apparent suicide.
Police said the cause of death had not been determined and that it could have been due to natural causes. He would not say if Lower, 57, had left a note.
A spokesman said it could be weeks before tests gave any answers about Lower, who had several medical problems.
Patrick McGee, a spokesman for the diocese, would not elaborate on why the church felt it was suicide. He said he knew of no note left by Lower.
According to a church statement, the diocese was contacted on Thursday by a man who accused Lower of sexual abuse in 1973 while the priest served at St Rose of Lima Parish in Littleton.
The Rev Edward Arsenault, the diocese’s delegate on sexual misconduct cases, said Lower was notified that day in Manchester. Lower decided he wanted to consult a civil lawyer and a canon lawyer before responding, Arsenault said, and then returned home alone to New London.
The next day, church officials determined the allegation appeared credible and that Lower should be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, Arsenault said. They also reported it to the state attorney general’s office and police.
Lower took his superiors’ advice to seek support and went to a fellow priest and his doctor. But by Friday evening, no one could find him, Arsenault said.
Family members and church officials told police on Saturday he was missing.
On Sunday morning, a hiker found Lower’s body along a hiking trail in Enfield, where he grew up.
Police believe he had been there for at least a day because his car was seen at the start of the trail on Saturday.
If Lower did take his own life, he would be at least the third priest to commit suicide since the sex abuse scandal engulfed the Roman Catholic Church about a year ago.
In April, the Rev Dan Rooney, 48, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, three days after a woman told the Cleveland diocese that he had abused her in 1980.
In May, the Rev Alfred Bietighofer hanged himself at a Maryland mental health treatment centre after being accused of sexually abusing children. He was sent to the hospital after resigning from his parish in Bridgeport, Connecticut.