A support organization for people abused by priests hopes resolution of an abuse case in Boonville last week encourages more people who’ve been harboring a secret to step forward.
A judge in Boonville has ruled that the statute of limitations had not run out on the man who was known as Father Jerry Howard, who is going to prison for 12 years for abusing three boys in the 1980s while serving as a priest in Boonville. Howard had left the state, which stopped the limitations clock from running. He was living in New Jersey when he was arrested.
Director David Clohessy of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests says the judge’s ruling should encourage other prosecutors to go after priests and other abusers whose acts were done decades ago.
Clohessy continues to accuse the Catholic Church of delaying actions and concealing information, saying any progress the church has made has been “painfully” small. But he says the Catholic Church is not the only faith group with abuse problems. “Every faith group could and should do a better job…Many denominations have fewer restrictions on who may become clergy and those denominations tend to be more open to kicking out bad apples,” he says.
Howard was known in New Jersey as father Carmen Sita, who was charged in 1982 with molesting boys. He was put on probation for five years in 1988 and went to a clinic in New Mexico that treats sex offenders. He changed his name to Gerald Howard after his release, moved to the Jefferson City diocese, and was stationed in Boonville.
Clohessy’s group has strongly criticized the Jefferson City diocese for its actions and last week added to its criticism when it said the diocese had withheld information that Howard/Sita had been defrocked two years ago by Pope Benedict. SNAP says it learned of the Pope’s actions from a lawyer for the Newark, New Jersey Archdiocese.
Clohessy says there’s no way to know how many victims of clergy abuse could be helped by the circumstances behind Howard’s conviction and sentence.