Trail of sex abuse allegations extended back to Diocese of West Virginia in 1969

Allegations of sex abuse of minors by the Rev. Howard White now include an instance before his placement as chaplain at St. George’s Episcopal School in Rhode Island. Karen Lee Ziner of the Providence Journal has uncovered a circa 1969 case in the Diocese of West Virginia. White’s first placement was in that diocese. After leaving West Virginia he subsequently was chaplain of St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, the first of many moves.

Ziner located a 1998 decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia: Richard Albright, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,  v. H. Willard White and The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of West Virginia.

From the decision:

Albright professes to recall that in 1969, White engaged in sexual conduct with him. At the time of the alleged sexual abuse, Albright was approximately eleven years old. Thereafter, at some undetermined point during his adulthood, Albright sought counseling, and … allegedly recalled the … sexual abuse during one such therapy session.

It appears from the record that Albright subsequently learned information tending to indicate that the defendant below, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of West Virginia [hereinafter the Church], may have known of White’s alleged proclivity for deviant sexual behavior. Despite the Church apparently having knowledge of White’s propensities, Albright avers that the Church failed to alert its parishioners of the potential danger to their children.

Information from the Annual Journals of the Diocese of West Journal reveal this history: Howard Willard White, Jr. was a postulant in the diocese (at Virginia Theological Seminary), a candidate for holy orders in May 1, 1965 and 1966, assistant at Trinity Church Martinsburg in 1966, resigned as curate at Trinity Martinsburg on September 1, 1967, non-parochial clergy in New Hampshire in 1968, non-parochial clergy, St. Paul’s School, New Hampshire in 1969, and received a letter dismissory from West Virginia to the Diocese of New Hampshire on February 4, 1970.

Added from the comments: In a comment below, Chris Seitz reports that White was a camp counselor at Peterkin (Diocese of West Virginia). It appears this was before White became a postulant, but possibly includes when he was a postulant and after he was ordained.

The Rev. White is alleged to have sexually abused minors while chaplain at St. George’s School in the 1970s. Based on these allegations he left St. George’s in 1974 at the request of the headmaster, Anthony Zane, with the admonishment that he not work with minors in the future. The school’s report says Zane “tried to prevent this employee from getting another job that would involve contact with students.”  Zane did not report the allegations to secular authorities. It is not known what Bishop Belden of the Diocese of Rhode Island knew of the details behind the employment separation between White and St George’s. But in a letter from Zane to White he references a meeting between Belden and White.

In another report by Ziner in the Providence Journal, there is an account by an alleged victim of White during his time at St. George’s. It says, in part,

He said he finally confronted White — he believes it was during a trip they took to White’s parents’ house in West Virginia. “He made it abundantly clear that if I didn’t continue the relationship, my life at the school would be miserable.”

After leaving St. George’s, White subsequently held positions at two other schools before becoming rector of a church in the Diocese of Western North Carolina. News of the allegations against White at St. George’s and the way in which he was quietly dismissed by St. George’s broke in late 2015. Another allegation of sex abuse of a minor while he was rector in Western North Carolina has since been made.  The West Virginia allegation is the latest to become known.

Added: A comment from Facebook about “Howdy” White:

I visited Grace in the Mountains at Waynesville NC when Howie (sic) White was finishing his last week as rector. I was totally icked out to discover a life-sized mural had been painted in the children’s nursery of Howie and his dog, depicted as angels.

The 1998 decision raises questions of what Bishop Smith, then bishop of Diocese of West Virginia knew, and whether he shared what he knew when White left the diocese. And, further, what he did with the allegations brought by Albright in the late 1990s: was this allegation shared with the Diocese of Western North Carolina where White was canonically resident?

A day after the Journal contacted the Rt. Rev. W. Michie Klusmeyer, current bishop of West Virginia, he emailed The Journal a statement. Klusmeyer’s email to the Journal is reprinted at the end of the Journal’s article.  In it, Klusmeyer writes;

“The Diocese of West Virginia does not and will not tolerate the behavior that has been described in the recent allegations. We have programs and procedures in place to prevent such situations, as well as strict reporting protocols. We will cooperate fully with all authorities in connection with this investigation, and will assist in every way, so that the truth may be revealed and that those who have been harmed will be comforted.”

“The allegations that have been brought forward are indeed terrible, and I am deeply saddened for all concerned. I ask you to join me in prayer as we confront this difficult situation. Pray for all of the people involved: the victims and their families, and the students, administration, as well as Howard White.”

Klusmeyer said after reading about White (and the St. George’s sex-abuse scandal) in the New York Times, “I was made aware that he was ordained here in West Virginia. And I pulled his file.” Klusmeyer also said he has received phone calls “from other church people” regarding White, and said, “I am also aware of the lawsuit that you named.”

Albright lost the 1998 case. The court accepted the defense of White and the diocese that the statute of limitations had expired.

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