Catholic Church Denies Cover-up

By Hailie Brook
KBCI 2 [Boise ID]
March 1, 2005

As a Deacon with a local Catholic Church prepares to head to prison for possession of child pornography, some parishioners at St. Mary's Parish continue to question the way the church handled the situation.

Last fall, Deacon Robert "Rap" Howell was charged with possession of internet child pornography. In November the deacon pleaded guilty to the crime.

But some parishioners are upset because the church didn't tell them about the conviction until last Sunday. "I'm trying to win the church back, I'm trying to fight for the church that I believe should be there," said St. Mary's Parishioner Erin Brannon.

Last Sunday - in the middle of mass - Erin Brannon took a stand, speaking out against the way he says the church has handled the Howell situation. "I just said I have an announcement and I walked up there and I probably didn't speak very well and I doubt anyone even heard me because I was so emotional," he said.

His emotions were boiling because he said the priest had just announced Deacon Howell was going to jail for a crime he "unknowingly committed." A crime that Howell had confessed to months ago. "The fact is he was caught with the materials on his hard drive and that's the fact," said Brannon, "and the fact is they were obscene materials with children."

Erin and his wife, Nancy are not only upset with the way they say the father portrayed the crime, they're also outraged they weren't told months ago. "I think they should have suspended him immediately when there was any allegation," said Erin, "and I think back in November they should have terminated him then and it should have come out then."

A spokeswoman for Idaho's Bishop Michael Driscoll told Local 2 News Tuesday that the Bishop is not happy with the father's comments either. "The bishop is upset," said Bobbi Dominick of the Diocese of Boise.

But she said the Bishop maintains the church was not trying to cover-up Howell's conviction. "The case was a matter of public record," said Dominick, "so we weren't hiding anything, but what we wanted to do was give the church's response, what we were planning to do under our policies."

Nancy Brannon argues she shouldn't have to search public records to find one of her clergy is charged with a federal offense. "Although they weren't hiding it, they also weren't disclosing it," she said.

This isn't the first time Bishop Michael Driscoll's disclosure about allegations of sexual misconduct have come into question. In 2002 he told Local 2 News that two decades ago - while serving in Southern California - he had covered up sex crimes by his priests. "Since that time I have been grieving over the fact that that's what we did," he said in 2002.

That was the same year the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a charter that stated the church would be open and transparent when it comes to these kinds of issues.

But the Brannons and other's are wondering if the church is applying that standard to this case. "I am just not one to sit there and say there's a building there and it still means something, if there's not honesty or integrity in that building, it doesn't' mean anything," said Erin.


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