Pennsylvania bishop suspends former assistant chaplain at St. George's School

The Rev. Dr. Howard White is among those being investigated in the decades-old sex abuse scandal at the Middletown school.

Providence Journal/January 6, 2016

By Karen Lee Ziner

A Pennsylvania bishop moved swiftly to suspend the Rev. Dr. Howard White, former assistant chaplain at St. George's School in Middletown, from his Pennsylvania church ministry following Tuesday's revelation that White "is among the subjects of an investigation into widespread sexual abuse during the 1970s and 1980s" at the school.

The Rev. Canon Audrey Cady Scanlan, bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to members of her Episcopal diocese Wednesday that explains her decision. White is now a retired Episcopal priest, and has served as a long-term supply priest at St. James Episcopal Church in Bedford, Pa., a borough of fewer than 3,000 people. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"I have moved to immediately restrict Father White’s ministry and to provide for the pastoral care of the congregation that he currently serves," the bishop wrote.

White was named in a document released by three St. George's alumnae at a Boston press conference Tuesday. The women, Anne Scott (Class of '80), Katie Wales Lovkay ('80) and Joan Reynolds ('79), were sexually abused by a former athletic trainer at the school in the 1970s.

Their document is a response to an investigative report the school issued in December that found "credible reports" that three former school employees had engaged in sexual misconduct with multiple students — 23 victims in all; and that three students had been victimized by fellow students. (Carmen Durso and Eric MacLeish, lawyers for the victims, say they have now received 40 complaints since The Boston Globe broke the story in December.)

The alumnae rebuttal accuses the school of covering up sexual abuse for decades, and failing to report known or suspected perpetrators to authorities. The response document identifies by name several former St. George's staff — White among them — whom the school's report references by numbers only. It details allegations by a former student who says White abused him, and notes that White was terminated in 1974 after admitting sexual misconduct with three boys.

Bishop Scanlan wrote: "You may have read in today's newspapers that a member of our Central Pennsylvania clergy, the Rev. Dr. Howard White, is among the subjects of an investigation," by Rhode Island State Police. "I learned about this situation as it was developing from my colleague, the Rt. Reverend W. Nicholas Knisely, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, who serves as an ex officio member of the board at the school."

Because of that, she wrote, she moved "immediately" to suspend White.

"I have no information that leads me to believe that there have been any incidents of abuse at St. James, Bedford, but it is imperative that we employ all the safeguards that are available to us while the investigation of the Rhode Island State Police continues and while the formal ecclesiastical discipline process involving Fr. White unfolds," Bishop Scanlan wrote.

Bishop Knisely on Tuesday called for "appropriate disciplinary proceedings" against three people named in the recent reports about sexual abuse allegations surrounding the elite private co-ed boarding school. A statement he issued said he is in contact with Rhode Island State Police, "and I am following their direction as the investigation is being carried out ..."

Reached Wednesday evening, Bishop Scanlan said Reverend White was celebrating Mass and giving sermons on Sundays at St. James Church for eight years.

The rebuttal document released Tuesday through lawyers MacLeish and Durso, who represent the three women, includes a letter former St. George's School Headmaster Anthony Zane wrote to White in September 1974. In it, Zane discusses White's departure from the school.

Zane is among several headmasters — including current Headmaster Eric Peterson — accused of failing to report known or suspected sex-abusers to state child protective services as required under Rhode Island law. Zane could not be reached Wednesday.

Zane's 1974 letter is addressed, "Dear Howdy":

"I do hope that all goes well in the future. Quite obviously, as I have said before, I feel strongly that you should not be in a boarding school and that you should seek psychiatric help," Zane wrote. "Please do not return to St. George's until one generation has gone through, that is, not for another five years ... I wish you well, and I am sorry that you had to leave."

MacLeish said Wednesday, "It's very gratifying to know that the Episcopal Church is taking the types of action which the school and its board of trustees should have taken years ago. My thoughts are with one of my clients who was horrifically abused by Reverend Howard White and with all those other young men who undoubtedly fell prey to this man because of the failure of Mr. Zane and school officials in subsequent years to notify Rhode Island child protection services and law enforcement. And Mr. Zane needs to take a very sobering look at himself in the mirror and figure out where his moral responsibility is."

MacLeish added, "Even if Mr. Zane was not aware of child abuse reporting laws, it makes no sense to simply send somebody like Reverend White on his way with the casual suggestion that he seek psychiatric help. More was required — more should have been done ... it's something that should have been reported a long, long time ago."

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