A former associate chaplain at St. George’s School in Rhode Island has pleaded guilty to molesting a student during trips to Boston in 1973. Howard White Jr., who was also accused of sexual abuse in three other states and stripped of his priesthood by the Episcopal Church, received an 18-month sentence, according to Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney’s office.
Officials in the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office said last year that the charges against White 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. He was arraigned in Suffolk Superior Court last December.
“The parties came to an agreement on a plea and sentence that we thought was fair,” said David Duncan, White’s defense attorney.
Carmen Durso, who represented the victim, said his client was satisfied with the outcome.
“He was pleased that he pled guilty,” Durso said. “This is the first time [White has] acknowledged any responsibility. He was pleased he got jail time because he should be punished for what he did.”
The abuse occurred when the St. George’s student was 15 and 16 years old. Durso said he was abused in several places, including Canada and West Virginia.
“This is a very unusual case in that the only reason they could prosecute him is because he left Massachusetts after abusing the victim,” Durso said. “They were able to prosecute him because the statute of limitations stops when the perpetrator leaves the state.”
On a camping trip to Nova Scotia, the victim tried to run away, Durso said. He came upon a farmhouse and told people there that he was trying to escape from White.
White showed up and convinced them that it was all a misunderstanding, according to Durso.
“He was an Episcopal priest. He was very convincing,” Durso said. “He was very good at covering his tracks.”
Durso said the victim returned to school and told the headmaster about the abuse. The headmaster refused to believe him until a second victim came forward, according to Durso. At that point, the headmaster terminated White.
“But White was allowed to go on to other places and abuse other people because there was never any punishment for what he did,” Durso said. “He was never prosecuted; he was never branded an abuser.”
A comprehensive child sexual abuse prevention bill introduced in January by Massachusetts Senator Joan B. Lovely, a Democrat from Salem, would make it more difficult for public or private school employees suspected of sexual misconduct or abuse to get jobs elsewhere.
The practice of not disclosing abuse allegations is sometimes referred to as “passing the trash,” said Jetta Bernier, the executive director of a child advocacy nonprofit called Massachusetts Citizens for Children. It occurs when schools or youth organizations allow teachers or other school personnel accused of sexual misconduct to resign rather than face disciplinary action and without reporting the allegations to outside authorities.
In such cases, schools often provide positive references, Bernier said.
“Schools have a choice: They can either protect abusers or they can protect the children they serve,” Bernier said. “They cannot do both.”
Among its many provisions, the bill would bar schools from signing confidentiality agreements or taking any action that would require the school to keep the misconduct secret. It would mandate schools to share this information when another school seeks a reference for that employee.
Two other people have said they were abused by White in North Carolina, after he left St. George’s School. Both are being represented by Durham, N.C. attorney Leto Copeley.
“It’s still under investigation and from what we understand, prosecution is a very real possibility,” Copeley said. “My clients certainly hope so, because they would like to see him brought to justice [in N.C.] as well.”
White’s defense attorney had no comment about the North Carolina allegations.