Diocese Settles over Sex-abuse Allegation

By Janese Heavin
Columbia Daily Tribune
August 13, 2009

Priest worked at Boonville parish.

The Jefferson City diocese and Catholic affiliates have agreed to pay $600,000 to a man who claims to have been sexually abused by a former Boonville priest.

Gerald Howard, whose current whereabouts are unknown, also will be defrocked as part of the settlement, said Bryan Bacon, a Columbia attorney representing the alleged victim.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a support group for victims, was expected to make the settlement announcement today outside of the Newman Center in Columbia and later at Jefferson City diocese headquarters. The settlement, reached in June, also involves the Newark, N.J., archdiocese, where Howard previously served, and St. Louis-based Paracletes, a religious order that reportedly treated Howard.

Ron Vessell with the Office of the Chancellor at the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City confirmed the settlement amount and said the three defendants will each pay roughly a third.

The alleged victim, whose name was not disclosed, is now in his 30s and lives in Virginia, Bacon said. He reported abuse to the diocese last year, and the settlement was reached before the man filed a civil lawsuit. It’s possible he will pursue criminal charges against Howard, Bacon said.

The alleged abuse was reported to have occurred at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Boonville and on trips to Columbia, New York and elsewhere between 1983 and 1988, Bacon said. He said it started when the alleged victim was about 12 and continued until he left the area for college.

There are “a lot of reasons” the alleged victim did not come forward when the abuse was happening, Bacon said. “Especially for a teenage boy, it’s something you don’t want other people to know about,” he said. “He also had the victim convinced that this was good for him.”

Bacon said the man claims Howard gave him marijuana, cocaine and other drugs, then warned him he would get in trouble for illegal drug use if he told anyone about the abuse.

SNAP also is criticizing the church for allowing Howard to change his name and hide his background. Vessell confirmed that Howard was previously known as Carmine Sita. Sita was arrested and charged in 1982 with sexual molestation and marijuana distribution in New Jersey, according to an Associated Press report at the time.

Vessell said Howard started duties as an associate pastor at the Boonville parish in 1983.

David Clohessy, the national director of SNAP, said he hopes the settlement encourages others to come forward. “We absolutely believe that he likely molested other kids in Columbia, Boonville and Mid-Missouri, some of whom may well be still suffering in shame and self-blame,” Clohessy said.


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