May 28, 2005 in Idaho

Idaho bishop allowed accused deacon to stay

Associated Press
 

BOISE – Idaho’s Roman Catholic Bishop Michael Driscoll, who recently apologized for permitting priests to remain in a California ministry after they had victimized children, failed to remove a Boise deacon after he was told the FBI was investigating the clergyman for allegedly viewing child pornography.

Driscoll had known of the investigation nine months before the church notified members of St. Mary’s parish in Boise, where Deacon Rapelyea Howell served, according to the Los Angeles Times and Idaho Statesman newspapers.

The 65-year-old leader of Idaho’s 144,000 Catholics was told June 1 of last year that Howell was accused by authorities of viewing Internet child pornography between June and September 2002 when he worked for Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based foster child counseling service that has an office in Boise.

The foundation monitors computer use by employees and was alerted to suspicious activity by software that tracks keyword searches and Web site visits. After putting Howell, 48, on administrative leave from the job he had held for 12 years, Casey officials turned Howell’s hard drive over to the FBI and fired him on Oct. 11, 2002.

But Howell continued to preside at Mass and other services at the parish until voluntarily resigning Oct. 1 of last year, a month before he pleaded guilty to felony possession of child pornography in U.S. District Court. He is currently serving an 18-month sentence at a federal prison in California.

Parishioners of St. Mary’s weren’t told of any impropriety involving Howell until the Rev. Tom Faucher, pastor at St. Mary’s, told members the weekend of Feb. 26-27 that Howell was sent to prison for a crime he “unknowingly committed.” Some parishioners familiar with the details of Howell’s case were angry with what they viewed as church officials’ attempts to downplay the seriousness of the crime.

“People were concerned we were not told the truth,” said Mary Baker, a parishioner whose son attends St. Mary’s Elementary School.

Driscoll subsequently sent an apology letter that was read to parish members before Mass the weekend of March 5-6. “If my actions were in any way a part of causing any of you pain or anger, I sincerely apologize,” he wrote.

Earlier this month, Driscoll reiterated an earlier apology for the lack of action he had taken while serving as an official in the Diocese of Orange, Calif., where he has been blamed for consistently shielding known sex offenders from scrutiny or transferring them to other ministries without disclosing allegations or past histories of sexual abuse of children.

“We are doing now what I profoundly wish we would have done years ago,” he wrote in a May 6 statement that was prepared in advance of the release of hundreds of pages of Orange Diocese personnel files as part of a $100 million court-ordered settlement with abuse victims. “Our goal is to do everything humanly possible to assure that no children are hurt by sexual abuse in the Catholic Church of Idaho.”

Driscoll, who was named bishop of the Boise Diocese in 1999, has refused interview requests related to the California and Idaho cases. He has referred questions to Boise Diocese Vicar General Ronald Wekerle, who said Driscoll had intended to notify St. Mary’s parishioners sooner about Howell but unspecified “issues had come up and he was not able” to tell parishioners until March.

“The bishop has learned, and is deeply committed to doing that as soon as possible,” in the event of future allegations against a church worker or volunteer, he said.

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