Support group for clergy sex-abuse victims asks Lexington bishop to investigate priest

jkegley@herald-leader.comMay 17, 2013 

Bishop Ronald Gainer, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, led a special Mass for newly elected Pope Francis on Thursday at Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff

HERALD-LEADER Buy Photo

A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is urging the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington to investigate and punish a priest suspended over sex abuse allegations. The priest is living in McCreary County.

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), recently sent a letter to Lexington Bishop Ronald Gainer asking that the diocese take action against Carroll Howlin, a Roman Catholic priest living in Whitley City who was suspended by the Joliet, Ill., diocese on accusations of abusing teenage boys.

"We want you to take real steps — now — to get this suspended, credibly accused serial predator priest away from children," the letter said.

However, a spokesman for the Lexington diocese said there was little it could do, since Howlin was employed and suspended by a different diocese.

"He's not an employee of the Diocese of Lexington, nor is he a priest of the Diocese of Lexington," spokesman Tom Shaughnessy said.

Howlin, 79, was the subject of a Chicago Tribune story published in the Herald-Leader last month. The story said Howlin was not being supervised by the Joliet diocese despite at least two substantiated allegations that he molested boys, one of whom committed suicide at age 17.

A Vatican ruling — which Howlin is appealing — sentenced him to a lifetime of "prayer and penance" and banned him from unsupervised contact with minors.

Joliet officials removed Howlin from public ministry but otherwise left him alone in Kentucky with a $1,100-a-month pension, the Tribune reported. The paper reported Howlin remained involved in church-related jobs and activities.

SNAP's executive director asked Gainer to "aggressively reach out" to any potential new victims from Kentucky and urge them to come forward to police. The organization also asked the Lexington diocese to ensure that Howlin is kept away from children — "optimally, in a remote, secure treatment facility where he can be monitored 24/7."

Shaughnessy said the church has no authority to restrict the movements of Howlin, who is living in Kentucky as a private citizen. That would be a matter for civil authorities, he said.

"I suppose the bishop could make such a request, but that would be highly unusual. It's really not within the church's authority to tell private citizens where they can and cannot live," Shaughnessy said.

He said the church constantly asks victims to come forward and offers several avenues to do so.

Howlin, who reportedly is homebound due to an illness, was suspended from the church in 2002. He apparently has never been criminally charged.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service