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

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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M. Searle

Please follow the posted comment policy of using both your first and last names. – ed

What no one has so far said is what is now the position? Is White (if still alive) so clearly marked that he is no longer able to carry out any further abuse?

Carolyn Peet

I just do not understand for the life of me how or why child sexual predation is so darn widespread. It seems like it should be such a rare mental sickness, and yet I get the impression that it is incredibly common, and always has been.

JC Fisher

Well, one factor (I’m no expert) is the tendency of the abused to become (at higher than normal averages) to become abusers themselves. Kyrie eleison—mercy AND justice!

Ann Fontaine

I wish it was just a reality of bygone days. Still pending current cases that I know have been sent to 815 for more help.

Prof. Christopher Seitz

How time hangs on after all…

William Redmon (see entry above) was my father’s successor at Christ Church, Fairmont, in 1967.

Howard White was a counselor at Peterkin (Diocese of WVA) when I was a camper and counselor there (1963-73). I believe I can remember him.

The other clergy were all involved at Peterkin because it was required and was also a cheap vacation for clergy with very little disposable income for summer holidays.

‘Howdy’ White’ appears to have had sexual predation issues.

A sad reality from an era many years past, it seems.

christopher seitz

+William Campbell was a student of my grandfather’s (Bexley Hall), and my father came to WVA from WNC in 1955 (he was the first full-time priest in Blowing Rock, Valle Crucis, Boone and Beaver Creek). He was in Huntington and then Fairmont, before returning to WNC serve as chaplain at Christ School (his alma mater). My brother Tom served churches in Beckley and Clarksburg, and my brother Mark has been the Rector of St Matthews Wheeling for almost twenty years. Peterkin was a place where all the clergy circulated — including Frank Wade, Charles McNutt, Bill Swing, Alan Bartlett, and many others who went to serve as bishops or large parishes. It was strange time I suppose as one transitioned from the cold war era to the 60s, and lots of upheaval culturally in the 70s.

Jon White

It seems clear that those in authority 50 years ago (Bp Campbell in the late 1960’s in this case) did not understand the seriousness of such allegations, or even Bp Smith twenty years ago. Perhaps they believed in a greater resilience among victims than we now know to be the case, or in the ability of offenders to control themselves, which we also now know is nearly impossible.

I give thanks that we have learned, even if some have not fully accepted it, and that the church in the past twenty years has made great efforts to root out these incidents from our common life. Safe Church and background checks are good ideas that are supposed to be mandatory across the church.

The scale of the problem at St George’s school is grievous, though given their loose association with the church, I wonder if some of the progress we have made has found its way into such situations. These perpetrators should be held accountable and the church should do all it can to make amends to the victims.

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