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Settlement in Missouri church abuse case disclosed

ST. LOUIS | The Roman Catholic Church and a religious order with ministries in the St. Louis area have agreed to pay $600,000 in one of the largest clergy sex abuse settlements ever in Missouri.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests disclosed the settlement Thursday. The deal calls for the Diocese of Jefferson City, the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., and the Servants of the Paraclete to share in payment to a man, now in his late 30s, who claims he was abused about 25 years ago by the Rev. Gerald Howard. The deal was finalized in July.

SNAP's David Clohessy criticized Catholic Church officials for failing to publicly disclose the settlement.

“They should have been shouting from the rooftops, 'A convicted predator has struck again — keep your kids away from him and come forward if you were abused,'” Clohessy said. “But instead they're doing what they've done for centuries, being secretive and reckless and self-serving.”

The man, whose name was not released and who now lives in Virginia, had repressed memory of the abuse, Clohessy said, but came forward last year. His disclosure led to mediation with church officials. No lawsuit was ever filed, according to a statement from Ronald Vessell, associate to the chancellor for the Diocese of Jefferson City.

“It is our hope that this individual and his family find healing,” Vessell said in the statement, which also encouraged anyone with information about abuse to come forward.

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, said it told the Cooper County, Mo., prosecutor of the allegations as soon as the victim came forward. “They (SNAP) are clearly wrong that this was kept quiet and not reported to anybody,” Goodness said.

Cooper County Prosecutor Doug Abele confirmed the archdiocese sent him information on the case.

“We took a look at it and declined prosecution,” he said. “There was not enough basis to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

A man answering phones for the Servants of the Paraclete said no one would be available to discuss the case.

Howard was ordained in New Jersey in 1976 when he went by the name Carmine Sita. In 1982, he pleaded guilty to having sexual contact with a minor, served probation and then was sent to a treatment center in New Mexico operated by the Servants of the Paraclete. During that time, he changed his name to Gerald Howard.

He then sought an assignment in the Diocese of Jefferson City. Then-Bishop Michael McAuliffe assigned Howard to serve as associate pastor of a Boonville, Mo., parish where the man and his family attended church. The diocese said it was not clear whether McAuliffe knew of the priest's criminal history.

Howard served in Boonville in 1983 and 1984. The diocese said he was removed for reasons other than abuse, and there were no abuse allegations on record against him.

Goodness said Howard has not worked as a priest for several years. It was not known where he lives or what he does for a living.

The Servants of the Paraclete, the only Catholic religious order in the U.S. that ministers to “priests and brothers in personal difficulty,” closed their New Mexico treatment program for priestly molesters in 1996. But they run a treatment center in Dittmer, Mo., outside St. Louis.

The largest known clergy abuse settlement in Missouri came in 2004, when the Archdiocese of St. Louis agreed to pay $1.6 million to a family that accused the Rev. Gary Wolken of abusing their son. Wolken was imprisoned on sex abuse charges.

Clohessy said the Boonville victim is doing his best to keep his life together.

“Like so many of us, his recovery won't be anywhere near complete if Howard is allowed to walk free among unsuspecting families,” Clohessy said.

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