October 23, 2019
Machenzie Wicker
Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE - A former Episcopal priest pleaded guilty to a multitude of child sex crimes in Western North Carolina, lending credence to allegations that span decades.

Howard White, 78, was indicted in Haywood County in 2016 on 15 charges including first-degree rape, second-degree forcible sex offense and indecent liberties with a child, District Attorney Ashley Welch told the Citizen Times.

White pleaded guilty Oct. 21 to all counts and, per a plea deal, the first-degree charges were reduced to second-degree ones. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and will be registered as a sex offender.

Four of White’s victims --- now adults --- were present for his sentencing in Haywood County Superior Court. Welch said the individuals, who had “horrible, unspeakable things happen to them,” were vindicated with White’s admission of guilt.

“Part of the reason that we did this is that it was very important for all the individuals involved in this case to actually hear him say that he was guilty,” Welch said. “He had always denied it. He never confessed.

“You’re talking about adults now. …. They have all had incredibly troubled lives, a lot as a result of what he did to them as children. At least one of them was estranged from member of their family because they did not believe the allegations against Mr. White.”

“An attempt at restorative justice”

One of his attorney’s, Sean Devereux, of Asheville, told the Citizen Times in an email that the plea and sentencing were “an attempt at restorative justice” that both the defense and the prosecution hope will “bring some measure of peace to all involve.”

Devereux said that the conduct leading to White’s convictions occurred 34-35 years ago, “during a period of time when he was drinking heavily” and that White is now sober.

“Dr. White’s abuse of alcohol three decades ago is no excuse,” Devereux said. “He spoke at his sentencing yesterday, telling the court and his victims, “I can only hope that 25 years of sobriety is a measure of atonement for the harm that I have done in the lives of others, especially those who looked to me for spiritual guidance.”

Most of the crimes White pleaded guilty to Oct. 21 occurred in 1984 and 1985, but two of the indecent liberties charges took place in 2004, Welch said.

“It’s not usual that you see charges this old come about,” she added. “We are lucky because (North Carolina does) not have a statute of limitations on felonies.”

Some of the other states where White has faced accusations do have statutes that prevent legal action after a certain amount of time has passed.

Removed from priesthood

White was removed from priesthood in Oct. 2006 after he was accused of molesting children as a chaplain at St. George’s School in Rhode Island, in the 1970s.

After the allegations at the elite boarding school emerged, several other people in Rhode Island came forward to say White abused them. Allegations also came forth about incidents in New Hampshire and West Virginia.
The report against White date to at least 1967.

Devereux acknowledged “a long history on the internet of allegations” against his client, but noted that there have not been charges brought anywhere besides Massachusetts and North Carolina.

White was charged last year with abusing a boy and a girl in the 1980s during his time at the Grace Church in the Mountains in Waynesville, where he served from 1984-2006, after a victim in Waynesville contacted the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, which is based in Asheville, to report White’s abuse. The diocese filed a police report.

The charges came while he was serving an 18-month sentence for pleading guilty in 2017 in Massachusetts to sexually assaulting a St. George’s School student while in Boston.

On his way to prison

White was handcuffed and taken out of the courtroom after sentencing. Welch said he is likely already on his way to the Department of Corrections, where he’ll be processed before being placed in a state prison.

Prior to his sentencing, White had been out on bond --- despite objections from Welch’s office --- and was living in Buncombe County.

White retired in 2006 and left Waynesville for Bedford, Pennsylvania, where he served as a long-term supply priest, which meant he filled in for other members of the church.

During his career, he spent three years at Asheville Country Day School. In addition to assistant headmaster, he was director of the upper school and a ninth grade ancient history teacher, according to 1982 article in the Citizen Times.

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