Officials Spent Thousands, Hoped
Woman Wouldn't Sue
Star-Telegram [Fort Worth TX]
November 29, 2006
[See related articles on the Fort
Worth files, and the accused priests Hanlon,
See also the documents
on which this series is based, with links to assignment records and background
The Rev. John Howlett
Religious order: Pallottine Society
Assignments: St. Mary, Graham; St. Brendan, Stephenville
Church leaders held their breath when complaints of sexual abuse resurfaced
against the Rev. John Howlett in mid-1993. They placated the mother of
female accusers -- who had come forward years before -- while hoping she
would not go to the authorities or file a lawsuit before the statute of
At least three more women would later come forward to tell similar stories
of betrayal, broken faith and childhoods destroyed because, they said,
Howlett abused them. One woman told the diocese that the priest habitually
sought sexual gratification from her beginning when she was 9. Another
said she was 5 when Howlett began molesting her.
The files do not indicate any effort to contact police about the allegations.
Today, Howlett lives in Dublin, Ireland, where he faces some restrictions
on his travel and public appearances imposed by his religious order, the
The diocese pays and waits
The diocese apparently learned of allegations against Howlett in the 1980s
when a woman called to accuse him of abuse.
The woman called again in 1993, this time asking for counseling for one
of her daughters.
The woman told the Rev. Joseph Schumacher what she had told Bishop Delaney
years earlier: Her family had trusted Howlett, letting him take the daughters
horseback riding. He was like an extended family member, she said. Then,
after one visit with the priest in the mid-1980s, one daughter told her,
"Father John put his hands in my panties."
She told Schumacher that she believed the priest had done the same thing
to the girls many times since at least 1981.
The diocese and the Pallottine order agreed to pay for the counseling
of the girls, who by then were young adults. The diocese and the order
also helped pay the living expenses of one girl.
"I hope that it can be contained like this, even though at some expense,"
an official with the Pallottine order wrote on Aug. 13, 1993. That same
day, the Rev. Philip McNamara of the Pallottines sent the woman a $300
check marked "social outreach." According to the files, the
check was meant to help the woman pay for baby-sitting.
Over the next year, thousands of dollars were sent to the woman using
funds from St. Brendan's Church in Stephenville, with the Fort Worth Diocese
providing some reimbursement.
McNamara and the Rev. Robert Wilson, former chancellor of the diocese,
were concerned about the expense. So, at about the same time McNamara
was praising one of Howlett's accusers for being a good single mother,
he was confiding to Wilson that he didn't want any attorneys involved
"pending the expiration of the statute of limitations on August 24th
or 25th of next year."
On July 20, 1994, McNamara wrote Wilson that "by the end of next
month, I hope we are 'out of the woods' so to speak."
McNamara, contacted Tuesday, said, "I don't remember writing that,
and I'm not allowed to comment."
By Dec. 19, 1994, Wilson wrote back with a sense of relief. "I am
glad that we seem to have weathered liability here, and that the family
may have become settled enough not to need charity."
But others would come forward.
More accusations surface
On May 17, 1999, Bishop Delaney, Wilson and the Pallottine official met
with another woman, who said Howlett molested her while she was preparing
for first Communion. The woman accepted counseling.
On June 5, 2001, another woman came forward.
She said she was 5 to 9 years old when Howlett molested her. Wilson offered
her six months of counseling.
In March 2004, another woman told diocese officials that Howlett had begun
sexual contact with her when she was 9 and that it had continued over
the years, into sexual intercourse, until she was 14.
She did not tell members of her family because of their visibility in
the community, and she said she came to believe that she was expected
to submit to the priest.
Since the abuse, it had become difficult for her to trust anyone, according
to the files. She was said to have suffered from several physiological
problems as a result of the abuse and became quiet and withdrawn from
her family, the files note.
Howlett remains a clergyman, according to court documents, but has no
authority to function as a priest, according to a sworn statement by the
Pallottines. He cannot have contact with the public without being accompanied
by another member of the Pallottine Society, the records state.