Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lawsuit Settled Against Father Gerald Howard

Officials with the Jefferson City Catholic Diocese have agreed to pay part of a settlement to a man who claims to have been sexually abused by a former Boonville priest.

Jefferson City Diocese officials would not say how much they paid of a $600,000 settlement agreement.

An attorney representing the alleged victim says no amount of money can erase a stolen childhood, a shattered faith and horrific betrayal.

This story centers around a priest who used to call himself Father Carmine Sita. Sita was arrested and charged in 1982 with sexual molestation and marijuana distribution in New Jersey.

Sita later changed his name to Father Gerald Howard and the Catholic Church moved him to a Boonville parish here in Mid-Missouri. The alleged victim, whose name remains anonymous, says Father Howard abused him during the 1980’s at Boonville’s Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. We do know that the alleged victim now lives in Virginia and sued the Catholic Church for more than $1 million. The church and the alleged victim reached a settlement of $600,000 in June, which is highest settlement for any sexual abuse case in Mid-Missouri involving a priest. Church officials do not know today’s whereabouts of Father Gerald Howard. That concerns the alleged victim’s attorney Bryan Bacon.

“We really encourage anyone that was assaulted by Fr. Howard in Boonville to come forward," Bacon said. "The statue of limitations for this type of crime, there is none. There are no statues of limitations. If you have been violated, I urge you to come forward and call the police.”

Officials with the Diocese of Jefferson City admit former Bishop Michael McAuliffe made a tragic mistake when he agreed to assign Father Howard to the Boonville Catholic Church in 1983. Church leaders say new procedures prevent situations like this from happening again.

“We’ve trained about 8,000 people in our diocese and the 38 counties that we serve," Associate to the Chancellor of the Diocese of Jefferson City Ronald Vessell said. "We’ve trained about 8,000 people in the ways of preventing child sexual abuse. That along with background checks. We do about 1,000 background checks a year.”

Vessell would not say how much of the $600,000 settlement his diocese is paying. Vessell did say any amount is a lot for a small diocese like his. Vessell says parishioners will not pay for the settlement. The church uses a special fund that has been created by private donations specifically for settlements involving child sexual abuse and priests.

The Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City now has it’s own lay review board that handles any allegations of child sexual abuse.

That board determines if any allegations are credible, before making any recommendations to Bishop John Gaydos.

That process was not available when Father Gerald Howard allegedly abused his victim in the 1980’s.

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