The Columbia Daily Tribune
Thursday, November 1, 2012
By Brennan David
Three men recounted memories yesterday in Cooper County Circuit Court of childhood sexual assault they say was inflicted by former Boonville priest Gerald Howard.
Howard in 1976
Charged with three counts of forcible sodomy, three counts of attempted forcible sodomy and two counts of kidnapping, the former Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church priest argued that his case should be dismissed because the statute of limitations has expired. Howard was indicted in April 2010 for the alleged crimes between March 1984 and September 1987 and was arrested soon after at his Bloomfield, N.J., apartment.
Circuit Judge Robert Koffman listened to oral arguments for four hours and will rule later. The prosecution and defense also may file written briefs for Koffman’s consideration.
“I would say, ‘No, I don’t want to do this,’ and then he would talk me into it,” a 41-year-old man said of sexual assaults he said he endured between August 1986 and September 1987. The names of the three men were not disclosed in court. At the time of the alleged assaults, the boys were in their early to mid-teens.
Howard, formerly known as Carmine Sita, once served as a priest in New Jersey. After molestation accusations, he completed a treatment program specifically for priests with sexual abuse issues. He changed his name and was reassigned by then-Bishop Michael McAuliffe as an associate pastor at the Boonville church. McAuliffe died in 2006.
Through his attorneys, Howard claims the three-year statute of limitations for the felony charges expired years ago. Cooper County Prosecuting Attorney Doug Abele argued that four amendments to the statute over the years and a series of other loopholes extended the timetable for the state to file charges. Abele and Howard’s attorneys interpret precedent established by case law differently, according to written arguments.
Testimony portrayed Howard as a manipulator and predator who drugged and specifically chose his victims. The priest, who would have been in his early 40s at the time of the alleged incidents, had access to classrooms at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic School.
According to testimony, he gave a seventh-grade music class a personality test, with results concluding that he and one alleged victim were a match. Based on their unique personalities, the man testified, Howard lectured to him that people like themselves were enlightened and more advanced because of their high intelligence.
“Everyone is bisexual,” he recalled Howard telling him. “Only the enlightened ones embrace it. … It was something I should strive for.”
The men said Howard used intimidation tactics to deter them from telling their parents about the abuse. Howard allegedly told one he had contacts in New Jersey who could handle the situation if he told anyone.
Although some of the abuse — and marijuana use — allegedly occurred in Howard’s private quarters at the church rectory, none occurred at the school, according to testimony. Some was alleged to have taken place at Howard’s Third Street residence, where it was common for teen boys to visit. Howard lived at that residence after leaving the priesthood — a decision the victims testified he said was a result of a fellow priest reading his personal journal.
“He started touching me. I was apprehensive,” one man testified. “He was soothing about it. At the time, I was stoned.”
Howard later worked at the now-closed Charter Hospital in Columbia.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, previously said he has heard from at least one person who claims to have been abused by Howard there.
One of the men who testified yesterday accepted a $600,000 settlement paid in part by the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City in 2009.
Reach Brennan David at 573-815-1718 or e-mail email@example.com.