Metro

Former R.I. Episcopal priest charged with assaulting teenager in the 1970s

Howard White Jr. (left) exited Suffolk Superior Court Tuesday. He was arraigned on charges of molesting a teen in the 1970s.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Howard White Jr. (left) exited Suffolk Superior Court Tuesday. He was arraigned on charges of molesting a teen in the 1970s.

A former associate chaplain at St. George’s School in Rhode Island who has been accused of sexual abuse in three other states and stripped of his priesthood by the Episcopal Church was arraigned Tuesday on charges that he molested a teenager during two trips to Boston in 1973.

The criminal charges against Howard White Jr., 75, grew out of a Rhode Island State Police investigation into allegations of sexual assault and sexual misconduct by former faculty and students at the elite prep school in Middletown, R.I., going back to 1970, according to the Suffolk district attorney’s office.

The DA’s office and a civil attorney for three alleged victims said the criminal proceedings are the first they know of to be initiated against White, who lives in Bedford, Pa.

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A grand jury indicted White last month on five counts of assault and battery. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in Suffolk Superior Court.

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Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Audrey Mark said White couldn’t be charged with indecent assault and battery because the law was not on the books at the time of the alleged offenses. The statute of limitations doesn’t apply in this case, prosecutors said, because White never resided in Massachusetts.

“Whether as a child or as an adult, disclosing sexual abuse can be the most daunting experience in a person’s life,” Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in a statement. “Survivors everywhere should know that they can feel safe and supported coming to us.”

Allegations of sexual abuse against White have also been reported to authorities in North Carolina and New Hampshire, officials have said.

In 1996, White faced a lawsuit from a former parishioner at a church in West Virginia who accused him of sexual abuse, according to an independent report into sexual abuse at St. George’s. That complaint was dismissed because the statute of limitations had run out, the report said.

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In a statement, St. George’s said it has cooperated with the investigation and “has confidence that the judicial process will result in a just outcome.”

“The school remains steadfast in its commitment to support the St. George’s survivor community,” it said.

Carmen Durso, a lawyer who represents the alleged victim, praised the decision to prosecute White.

“The fact that he’s been allowed to go from place to place and the fact that people didn’t take steps to stop him is unthinkable,” he said.

The alleged abuse occurred when the male student was 15 and 16 years old, prosecutors said. White befriended the boy, invited him to his apartment to help him with school work, and took him out to dinner, Mark said.

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On two occasions during the spring of the boy’s freshman year and the fall of his sophomore year, White took the teenager on overnight trips to Boston, where they stayed in a hotel, Mark said.

During one trip, White and the student dined at Anthony’s Pier 4 restaurant and saw the horror movie “The Exorcist,” Mark said. White sexually assaulted the boy in a hotel room, she said.

In the middle of the student’s sophomore year, Mark said, the boy confronted White and said the abuse “has got to stop.”

White allegedly responded by saying, “I’ll tell you what. It’s not going to stop. If you try to stop, I’ll make your life difficult,” Mark said.

The student told the school’s headmaster what had happened, Mark said, and White allegedly confessed to abusing the boy.

No bail was sought for White, who appeared in court voluntarily, prosecutors said.

Following his court appearance, White and defense lawyer David Duncan declined to comment. A trial date was tentatively set for June 26.

White was removed from the priesthood in October by the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, according to a statement on its website. The diocese said it had placed White on leave in January after the allegations against him were made public.

In North Carolina, investigators are looking into a claim from a woman who said that, when she was a teenager, White sexually abused her at Grace Church in the Mountains in Waynesville, the Globe reported in February.

Durso, who represents the woman and another man who says he was sexually abused by White in North Carolina, said the investigation there remains pending.

In August, St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., announced that an alumnus had recently disclosed an allegation of past sexual abuse by White. The school said it reported the allegation to Concord police.

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.