Metro

Ex-St. George’s School chaplain now target of N.C. abuse probe

The former assistant chaplain at St. George’s School in Middletown, R.I., is now the subject of a North Carolina police investigation into a woman’s claim that, when she was a teenager, he sexually abused her.
Steve Senne/Associated Press/File 2016
The former assistant chaplain at St. George’s School in Middletown, R.I., is now the subject of a North Carolina police investigation into a woman’s claim that, when she was a teenager, he sexually abused her.

In 1974, when the Rev. Howard H. White Jr. was quietly let go as assistant chaplain at St. George’s School in Middletown, R.I., after admitting to sexual misconduct with a male student, headmaster Tony Zane wrote White a letter telling him he “should not be in a boarding school” and “should seek psychiatric help.”

White went on to work at two other private schools, and neither reported complaints. But now North Carolina police are investigating a woman’s claim that, when she was a teenager, White sexually abused her at Grace Church in the Mountains in Waynesville, N.C., where he worked as a rector from 1984 to 2006. The investigation was first reported Saturday by the Providence Journal.

The woman, speaking publicly for the first time, told the Globe Tuesday that she was a sophomore in high school in the mid-1980s when White began to molest her in the church rectory, where he encouraged kids to spend time. She was diagnosed with PTSD in 2004, and said she is “terrified” of being found by White.

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The woman said she is cooperating with law enforcement.

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“I’m either going to be part of the solution, or I’m a coconspirator hiding it, just like everyone else,” she said.

Bishop G. Porter Taylor of the Diocese of Western North Carolina last week wrote diocesan members about the alleged victim, and said he informed the police and district attorney’s office.

“In deference to their responsibilities and any possible criminal prosecutions, we will share all that we can and will assist their investigators,” Taylor wrote.

St. George’s had not reported White to authorities when he was let go in 1974, but his identity came to light recently following a new investigation of reported sexual abuse at the elite Episcopal prep school. The alleged abuse was said to have occurred primarily in the 1970s and 1980s. More than 40 former students say they were sexually abused there.

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Waynesville Police Chief William Hollingsed told the Globe this week that the North Carolina investigation is in its infancy.

“We are working with the victim and the authorities,” he said. “If there are other jurisdictions involved, we will obviously work with them.”

Hollingsed said there is no statute of limitations on felony sexual assault in North Carolina. He declined to comment further, saying: “We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize either our victim or case as a whole. It’s way too early to say if charges will be filed.”

Boston attorney Carmen Durso, who is representing the alleged North Carolina victim, said the abuse went on for a year and a half.

White could not be reached by the Globe for comment on the new allegation. When contacted in January on the St. George’s allegations, he said: “I have no response whatsoever.”

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St. George’s own investigation of sexual abuse in the past year found that there had been at least six staff perpetrators at the school, and listed all but one of them by number instead of by name. In January, “Employee Perpetrator #2” was identified as White by Durso and attorney Eric MacLeish, who are representing some of the St. George’s victims.

According to the school’s report, Employee Perpetrator #2 abruptly left St. George’s in 1974 after admitting to misconduct and reportedly had “inappropriate and potentially sexual contact with at least three male students.”

One St. George’s alumnus told MacLeish and Durso he was repeatedly molested and raped by White in hotel rooms in various states and in Canada, and left school the summer after his sophomore year because of it, according to the lawyers.

The former student, now a dentist in Pennsylvania, told the Globe Tuesday that the abuse started when he was 15. He reported it to Zane, he said, who asked for corroboration. When the boy finally told his mother, she went to the headmaster, and White was fired.

When contacted by the Globe about White, Zane, who lives in New Bedford, said, “Oh forget it,” before hanging up.

Although the school acknowledges it didn’t report the allegations to any law enforcement authority at the time, it has now turned over a report on White to the Rhode Island State Police.

White has most recently been employed at St. James Church in Bedford, Pa. In January, Central Pennsylvania bishop Audrey C. Scanlan removed White from his position there after learning of his history from the Episcopal bishop of Rhode Island. Scanlan wrote to her diocese that she had no information about any abuse at St. James, but would remove White as a “safeguard” while the State Police investigate and the “formal ecclesiastical discipline process unfolds.”

Durso, who has represented sex abuse victims for 50 years, criticized St. George’s for failing to report White.

“The most likely consequence of failure to report on incidences of sexual abuse is that the person who did it is going to go out and do it to someone else,” Durso said.

“We think St. George’s had a legal duty to report to both the DCYF [child protective services] and to law enforcement,” he said. “At a minimum, they had the moral obligation to report to other parts of the Episcopal community, and they didn’t do that.”

Asked about the school’s failure to report White in 1974, Joe Baerlein, a spokesman for St. George’s, said: “An allegation this serious and disturbing is exactly why St. George’s and SGS for Healing are fully supportive of the independent investigation by Marty Murphy and his team of investigators. The board of St. George’s is committed to finding out the truth as well as expressing its support for the healing of the group of survivors.”

After leaving St. George’s, White worked at Chatham Hall, a girls’ school in Chatham, Va., from 1978 to 1982, where he was chaplain and dean of academics. Suzanne Buck, the current school rector, said he came there after spending about four years working in higher education. She said there have been no reports of White “engaging in illegal sexual misconduct” during his years at Chatham Hall.

In 1982, White moved to a position at the coed Asheville Country Day School in North Carolina, where he taught history and English and served as assistant headmaster. Kirk Duncan, headmaster of what is now called Carolina Day School, said he sent a letter Saturday to alumni encouraging them to report any “possible inappropriate behavior by Dr. White” during his two years there. Duncan said he has yet to hear any complaints.

Bella English can be reached at english@globe.com.