COLUMBIA — A former Boonville Catholic priest who also worked in Columbia for a time was arrested in New Jersey on Wednesday after being indicted by a Cooper County grand jury on multiple counts of sodomy.
The defendant, the Rev. Gerald Howard, was being held Wednesday in Bloomfield, N.J., on $1.5 million bond, according to a news release from the Cooper County prosecuting attorney's office.
Howard was known as the Rev. Carmen Sita when he was assigned to the Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Boonville during the 1980s. That's where and when the alleged abuse that spawned the charges is believed to have occurred, according to a news release from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. The parish is part of the Jefferson City diocese.
Cooper County Prosecutor Doug Abele said Howard has been indicted on eight different counts:
- three counts of forcible sodomy
- three counts of attempted forcible sodomy
- two counts of kidnapping
Howard was believed to have committed these offenses between 1983 and 1988.
All of the charges are class A felonies, which carry mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison.
Abele said in a news release that several alleged victims from Boonville came forward to give accounts of the abuse, prompting the grand jury indictments.
The charges announced Thursday are not the first against Howard. Before coming to Boonville, Howard — then known as Carmen Sita — served as a priest in New Jersey. There, he was arrested and charged on counts of sexual contact with a minor on Sept. 15, 1982. He pleaded guilty in 1983, according to the Official Catholic Directory.
He was sentenced to five years probation and was sent to the Servants of the Paraclate in Albuquerque, N.M.
Following Sita’s name change in 1983, he came to Saints Peter and Paul Parish. He was dismissed in 1984, then went to work at Charter Hospital in Columbia, which has since closed. Charter was a treatment center for people with substance abuse addictions and other mental health problems.
After working at Charter, Howard disappeared. There is no record of when Howard left Charter or where he had been until his arrest.
“We don’t know when he even left the Columbia area,” said Judy Jones, Midwest associate director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. The organization held a news conference about the Howard indictments outside the Columbia Police Department on Thursday.
Jones said it was victims' testimony that led to Howard’s arrest Wednesday. One of those alleged victims — and the first to come forward — was former Boonville resident Mark McAllister, now of Roanoake, Va. After giving his testimony last August, many of Howard’s other alleged victims felt compelled to tell their story, said Ken Chackes, an attorney who represents McAllister.
In August, McAllister won a $600,000 settlement with the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., the Diocese of Jefferson City and the Servants of the Paracelete, a congregation that works with religious men with personal difficulties. The Diocese of Jefferson City was to pay $225,000 of that settlement, plus mediation costs, according to a previous Missourian report. A provision of that settlement is that Howard would be defrocked by the Catholic church.
Another of McAllister’s attorneys, Bryan Bacon, joined SNAP at the news conference. He called the indictments against Howard "a big victory for the victims.”
“It’s a victory for the Boonville community as well,” Bacon said.
SNAP members urged any other victims of abuse to bring their stories to light.
Jones read a statement from McAllister at the news conference.
“I applaud the courageousness of the victims who offered their testimony alongside me, and I encourage any other victims to break their silence and end their suffering,” McAllister's statement said.
Bacon said Howard will eventually be extradited to Missouri. If convicted of all counts, he said, Howard probably would spend the rest of his life in prison.