Frequently Asked Questions

Boise Diocesan Web Site
Dated April 4, 2005 in the Document's Source Code
Downloaded August 28, 2006

When did the Diocese of Boise learn that Deacon Howell was involved in Internet child pornography?

Bishop Michael Driscoll was notified that there was an ongoing criminal investigation involving Deacon Howell in June, 2004.

What action was taken at the time?

Diocesan staff opened a canonical investigation, met with Deacon Howell to gather information, interviewed other people with information, and contacted the investigating agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to discern the nature of the charges and the likelihood that criminal charges would be filed. We learned that possible charges stemmed from incidents which occurred over two years ago outside his work with the church. In July and again in September, Bishop Driscoll asked Deacon Howell to take a voluntary leave of absence, and seek a psychological evaluation to determine his suitability for ministry.

When did Deacon Howell resign?

Oct. 1, 2004.

Why was there a four month lag between when the diocese learned of the possible crime and when the deacon resigned? And why was there a lag time before the parish was informed?

During those times frame we were conducting our own investigation, and awaiting the results of the FBI investigation and the completion of the criminal process, and examining ways that we could accomplish a voluntary or involuntary leave of absence consistent with canon law, and appropriate notification to the parish/school. The Bishop recognizes that it took too long to accomplish the removal of Deacon Howell from ministry, and regrets that this action was not accomplished much sooner. In addition, while the Bishop wanted the parish and school to be informed about this issue from the very beginning, he believes that he made a mistake in not insisting that the disclosure happen in a much more accurate and timely manner.

Did the diocese send Deacon Howell for counseling?

It is our understanding that Deacon Howell voluntarily sought counseling and treatment for this issue when the behavior occurred two and one half years prior. The Diocese offered to pay for a psychological assessment to determine suitability for ministry once the Bishop learned of the issue. The Diocese also encouraged Deacon Howell to seek counseling. Under canon law, the diocese cannot force a member of clergy to undergo psychological assessment or counseling.

What will happen now to Deacon Howell? Is he still a deacon? Will he be allowed back in to ministry upon his release from prison?

Deacon Howell is still a deacon because, in order for someone who has been ordained to be “laicized” (i.e., the process of removing their clerical status) permission or direction must be obtained from the Vatican. Under our policy and the law of the church, access to child pornography is considered child sexual abuse. When there is a proven or admitted allegation of child sexual abuse, the sanction for that behavior is permanent removal from ministry, or dismissal from the clerical state (forced laicization). However, under church law, the local Bishop cannot impose these penalties, but instead must submit a canonical petition to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, and the CDF will then instruct the local Bishop on how to proceed with the canonical case. Now that the canonical investigation into this matter is concluded, and all of the information gathered, the diocese will now submit this matter to the CDF. We anticipate that the canonical proceedings will be completed before Deacon Howell is released form prison, and thus his status will be clear before he returns to Idaho.

Bishop Driscoll has stated, and continues to maintain, that anyone working on behalf of the church who engages in the sexual abuse of a child will be permanently removed from ministry. Our written policy states: “When even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants.”

Does the diocese consider child pornography as “child abuse”?

The USCCB Office of Child and Youth Protection and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has instructed us that possession of child pornography is included within the scope of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which addresses the issue of child sexual abuse within the church. Thus, we take the issue very seriously, and will act within the guidelines that the Charter provides for any situation involving child pornography.

What is the diocese’s policy regarding Internet child pornography?

The diocese's policy prohibits all church personnel from possession, distribution or viewing any sexually-oriented or morally inappropriate materials on church property, which includes not only child pornography, but any sort of pornography.

Does the diocese have a plan to investigate if any incidents that could be connected with accessing child pornography have occurred in the deacon’s parish or in other church settings?

Our policy is to investigate any allegation that is brought forward concerning inappropriate behavior by someone acting on behalf of the church.

We invite anyone who feels they have been subjected to inappropriate behavior by anyone acting on behalf of the church to call the Coordinator of Child, Youth and Adult Protection, Bobbi Dominick, 342-1311x138 so that an appropriate inquiry can be made.

What is the Diocese’s procedure on communicating these types of issues to the faithful?

Diocesan policy requires outreach to affected faith communities when sexual misconduct of any kind occurs. The sexual misconduct policies are included in this link. The communications procedure of the diocese is included at this link.

What has the diocese done to try to educate people on the issue of pornography and child pornography?

In the spring of 2004, the Diocese co-sponsored a two day conference on Internet pornography and sexual addiction. The Bishop strongly encouraged all clergy to attend to learn more about this societal issue. Many priests, parish life directors and deacons did attend, and the conference was also attended by pastoral associates, youth ministers, and others who work on behalf of the church.

In addition, in December, the Office of Child Youth and Adult Protection began distributing information on child pornography in particular to parish leaders. At this link you will find a fact sheet on child pornography sent out in December 2004. Finally, the diocese will continue to try to educate parish and school leaders and the faithful on the dangers of sexual addiction, Internet pornography, and the crime of child pornography in particular.

What has the diocese done to educate people on the issue of child sexual abuse?

The diocese has taken an active and proactive role in educating all of the faithful on the issue of child sexual abuse and its prevention. Materials located on this website (Keeping Kids Safe) were sent to all Catholic households in the summer of 2004. In addition, all those who work for the church, all priests, deacons and seminarians have been required to attend a four hour program on the prevention of child sexual abuse. Also, all volunteers who have regular contact with children have been required to attend two hours of training on this important issue. Since the fall of 2003, the diocese has trained over 870 people through a four hour program, and over 2750 people through a two hour program. The diocese will continue to provide such education into the future, with the goal of being a leader in our communities in efforts to prevent childhood sexual abuse.

What does the diocese do to screen candidates for the priesthood and the diaconate?

Prior to ordination, priests and deacons undergo a long period of formation, and discernment, to determine their suitability for ministry. In addition, they are required to obtain numerous references and evaluations throughout their candidacy. Finally, many psychological tests are administered to each candidate well prior to ordination, and those whose test results indicate potential problems in the future are screened out of the program. Criminal background checks are performed, not only on clergy, but on ALL employees of the diocese, parishes and schools, and on all volunteers who have regular contact with children or youth. To date, the diocese has done 4,313 criminal background checks since the summer of 2003. Unfortunately, however, even the most effective screening programs cannot predict human behavior, and thus there will still be misconduct. Diocesan policy then requires a strong approach to proven or admitted misconduct by those who act on behalf of the church.


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