Thursday, February 18, 2016

Did the church knowingly pass along a sex abuser for decades?

The Rev. Howard W. White, Jr. is alleged to have committed sexual abuse of adolescents in three dioceses: the Diocese of Rhode Island in 1974 while he was chaplain at St. George's School, the Diocese of Western North Carolina sometime during the period 1989-2007 while he was rector of Grace Church in the Mountains, and in the Diocese of West Virginia in 1969 where he had his first parish assignment.

His treatment by church institutions over this period points to a systemic pattern of a long term failure to create a safe church environment. Investigations were never opened into his alleged misconduct. There is a pattern of officials knowing about White's behavior, and failing to share that information with others. Instead, he was allowed to leave institutions and go onto to others who were not warned of past allegations. And those institutions doing the same to others.

White's self-bio is reported here.

The Providence Journal reported the West Virginia case today. The Providence Journal also broke the Western North Carolina story.

The Rev. White has escaped a church review of alleged sexual abuse, not once but at least twice. Now retired, he is canonically resident in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania where a clergy misconduct investigation has been opened.

In 1974, a 14 year old male student at St. George's Episcopal School alleged to the headmaster that the school chaplain, the Rev. Howard White, had sexually abused him over a period of months. The headmaster, Anthony Zane, initially dismissed the allegations. But when another male student came forward saying he had been sexually abused by White, Zane terminated White. He did not report the allegations to the civil or church authorities. Zane told White not to take a position where he would be working with children.

White subsequently worked at another Episcopal school and another private school.

At Grace Church in the Mountains he was known affectionately as Howdy and is remembered for his work with the children and youth of the parish.

After the facts of his 1974 dismissal came to light in late 2015, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Knisely,  contacted dioceses where White had worked or been canonically resident.

This included the Diocese of West Virginia, and the Diocese of Western North Carolina.

The allegation in West Virginia comes from a man who says that in 1969, at the age 11 year old, he was sexually abused by White. In 1998 the Supreme Court of West Virginia affirmed a lower court's decision that the statute of limitations had run out. Specifically, the court supported the arguments of the plaintiffs Howard White AKA H. Willard White and The Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia that there it was not necessary to decide the suit on the basis of the facts.

Yet the court's decision states, "It appears from the record that [the plaintiff] subsequently learned information tending to indicate that the defendant below, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of West Virginia may have known of White's alleged proclivity for deviant sexual behavior."
The Bishop of West Virginia in 1969 was Wiburn C. Campbell. Was White disciplined in anyway at the time? Was he allowed to leave West Virginia quietly, handed off him to a school in New Hampshire?

The Bishop of West Virginia in 1998 was John H. Smith. Did Smith inform the Diocese of Western North Carolina where White was canonically resident so that White could have been subject to disciplinary proceedings? More to the point -- so that the Bishop of Western North Carolina could protect the children of Grace Church in the Mountains?

Is the present bishop of West Virginia aware of the 1969 allegation, and 1998 court decision? Does the diocese plan to make a statement to the public? The Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, bishop of West Virginia did email a statement to the Providence Journal which is reproduced at the end of its article.

It may be there, but investigating this article I did not find clear direction to safe church training on the Diocese of West Virginia website. Update it exists: http://www.wvdiocese.org/pages/safeguarding.html

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