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Columbia Missourian

No new abuse allegations received, diocese says

By Courtney Shove
August 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — In the week since Mark McAllister and his family spoke out about his clergy abuse settlement, the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City said it has not received any new allegations of abuse.

At a news conference Tuesday, members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said at least four more victims have come forward to report abuse by a former Boonville priest.

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"We have not received any new allegations (since the recent settlement)," Ron Vessell, allegations review administrator for the diocese, said Wednesday.

The Rev. Gerald Howard, who was previously known as Carmine Sita, pleaded guilty in 1982 to one charge of sexual misconduct with a minor in New Jersey. After serving probation and changing his name, Howard served in Boonville from 1983 to 1984.

Howard "was not sent anywhere by us," diocese communications director Mark Saucier said. "He was dismissed from the parish and the diocese."

In 1984, at the time of Howard's dismissal, there were no known allegations of sexual abuse by him in the Boonville parish.

Little information exists about Howard. The diocese doesn't know whether Howard was transferred after he left Missouri. The current bishop and diocese staff weren't involved in Howard's dismissal, and the bishop during Howard's time in Boonville is now deceased.

In March 2008, the McAllisters began talking to the diocese about their allegations of abuse. They settled with the Archdiocese of Newark (N.J.), the Diocese of Jefferson City and Servants of the Paraclete, where Howard was sent for treatment after his 1982 conviction. McAllister was awarded $600,000.

Steve McAllister, father of Mark McAllister, said the Diocese of Jefferson City was "not hostile or dismissive" when he and his wife, Mary, brought forth their son's allegations.

Unlike in the 1980s when McAllister was allegedly abused, the diocese now has an official process of vetting and educating all church employees and volunteers who work with children. Policies are now in place for handling any future allegations.

If there is a credible allegation of clergy sex abuse in the diocese, the offending priest is automatically removed from all public ministry activities.

The diocese runs background checks on all parish employees and volunteers who work with youth and has since 2002. "We also have mandatory training on the nature and scope of child sexual abuse," Vessell said. The awareness and prevention curriculum enforces the church's pastoral code of conduct when working with children.

Each diocese has a lay review board that investigates all allegations of abuse. The board consists of church members from various occupational disciplines such as law, education and psychology.

In 2002, in response to the clergy sex abuse scandal, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops passed the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People." According to Vessell, the charter begins with an apology from the bishops for mishandling past sex abuse allegations and includes various changes in the way priests and other church employees are screened.

Vessell said the diocese is audited annually by Boston's Gavin Group, Inc. on its adherence to the charter's procedures.