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, Hoover, Magaldi, Reilly, and Renterķa. See also the documents on which this series is based, with links to assignment records and background information.]

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 limitations expired.

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 Pallottines.

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.


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