Bishop Says He'll No Longer Hesitate to Disclose Abuse Claims

Associated Press State & Local Wire
June 16, 2005

Roman Catholic Bishop Michael Driscoll of Idaho says he waited nine months before informing members of a Boise parish that their deacon was under investigation for viewing child pornography because the diocese was worried about being sued over such allegations.

But that's not the case anymore, he said in his first interview since it was disclosed last month that Driscoll withheld information that St. Mary's Deacon Rapelyea Howell was the subject of an FBI investigation and continued to let Howell participate in services.

"I would just say the heck with worries about civil liabilities, let's go do it and do the right thing," Driscoll told The Idaho Statesman newspaper Tuesday. "If I make it public and it turns out to be false, I will make that very, very public so I can restore that person's name."

The 65-year-old leader of Idaho's 144,000 Catholics has been criticized by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The group alleges he is continuing in Idaho a pattern of secrecy and protection of abusive church workers that began when he was an official with the Diocese of Orange, Calif. three decades ago.

Hundreds of pages of personnel files detailing Driscoll's handling of abusive priests were released last month as part of a $100 million settlement with abuse victims in California.

Driscoll had earlier apologized for the lack of action he took in the California diocese in responding to allegations of sexual abuse by priests and for transferring known sex offenders to other ministries without adequately disclosing their past histories.

In the case of Howell, who is currently serving an 18-month sentence at a federal prison in California after pleading guilty in November to felony possession of child pornography, Driscoll said he hesitated to tell parishioners because "we were still looking for the facts."

He also said he didn't force Howell to go on leave pending the outcome of the investigation because he was worried about the implications of the accusation on Howell's wife and children.

"With a deacon, it was more complicated than a priest," Driscoll said. "A priest doesn't have those kinds of attachments you have to think about - wife and children."

Driscoll, who was attending the U.S. Conference of Bishops meeting in Chicago on Wednesday, said he now understands that child pornography on the Internet must be treated seriously regardless of the position of the church worker involved.

"If I were to find out today that somebody was doing that, then I would immediately put that person on administrative leave and we would investigate that," he said. "If there are charges, I would let the parish know that, too."

Driscoll said he has received only one or two e-mails calling on him to resign as bishop since Howell's conviction was first reported, while he has gotten "tons" of e-mail, cards and letters of support.


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