Episcopal priest suspended amid abuse claims at prep school
By Associated Press | January 7, 2016, 16:56 EST
An Episcopal priest has been suspended from a Pennsylvania church after being accused this week of molesting three boys at an elite boarding school in Rhode Island more than 40 years ago.
More than two dozen students allege they were molested or raped at St. George’s School in Middletown in the 1970s and ’80s. A lawyer for three former students named the Rev. Howard White on Tuesday as being among the six perpetrators the school identified after an internal investigation.
White has not been charged with a crime, and did not return a phone message left Thursday at his home by The Associated Press. He told The New York Times on Tuesday that the allegations were “news to me.” Asked by the newspaper if he had been fired because of the accusations, he said, “That isn’t really true.” He told The Boston Globe he had no comment.
A retired priest, White has been serving as a long-term, fill-in pastor at St. James Episcopal Church in Bedford, about 100 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Episcopal officials moved swiftly after his name surfaced, saying he would be subjected to church discipline.
“I have moved to immediately restrict Fr. White’s ministry and to provide for the pastoral care of the congregation that he currently serves,” Bishop Audrey Scanlan of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania wrote in a letter published on the diocese’s website Wednesday.
She said she has not received any reports of abuse at St. James.
White did not return a phone message left at his home. Under the terms of his 90-day administrative leave, which is renewable, he is not permitted to wear priestly garb, perform any clerical functions or hold himself out as an Episcopal priest, Scanlan said in an interview Thursday.
Last month, St. George’s School said it found that 26 students were sexually abused by six school employees in the 1970s and ’80s. The boarding school acknowledged it didn’t report abusers to authorities at the time and apologized for not doing more. Rhode Island State Police are investigating.
At a news conference in Boston on Tuesday, a lawyer identified White, a former assistant chaplain at St. George’s School, as “Employee Perpetrator No. 2” in the school’s report.
The report said the employee was fired in 1974 after he admitted to inappropriate conduct with a male student. It added the school’s investigation “determined the employee had inappropriate and potentially sexual contact with at least three male students, including sharing a bed and trying to touch students in bed.
According to a 1974 letter from then-headmaster Anthony Zane to White, the school gave money to the priest after his departure and paid his moving expenses.
“Under the circumstances, I think the school is being generous, and if you find yourself hard pressed in the future I suggest that you consider selling your Porsche,” said the letter, released Tuesday by attorney Carmen Durso.
Zane also urged White to stay away from boarding schools and to seek psychiatric help, according to the letter.
“Please do not return to St. George’s until one generation has gone through, that is, not for another five years,” the letter said.
A biography of White on St. James’ website said he was also on the faculty of St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and went on to serve in leadership positions at private schools in Virginia and North Carolina before becoming rector of a church in Waynesville, North Carolina. He stayed at Grace Church in the Mountains for 22 years.
A broad church investigation will look at all the places he has served, though there has been no other allegation of misconduct, Scanlan said.
Ordained 50 years ago last month, White has been leading the tiny St. James congregation in worship each Sunday since retiring to Bedford in 2007.
— Written by Michael Rubinkam