Waynesville Police Department began an investigation Feb. 3 after an alleged victim came forward claiming White sexually abused her as a minor during his tenure at the church.
White served as the rector at Grace Episcopal Church from 1984 until he retired in 2006, but before coming to Waynesville he was employed at a private prep school in Rhode Island — St. George’s School.
The female in Waynesville likely came forward after seeing headlines out of Rhode Island reporting that White and several other St. George’s faculty had been accused of sexual misconduct by 26 former students. That alleged abuse took place in the 1970s and 1980s, according to an internal report made public by St. George’s in December 2015.
The Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina has been following the investigations and keeping their congregations apprised of the situation. Rev. Porter Taylor in Asheville issued a public letter to members in early January to inform them about the accusations against White in Rhode Island and issued another letter Feb. 6 when the female from Waynesville emailed him with more accusations. Taylor informed the Waynesville Police Department immediately.
“I received that with many emotions and with a renewed commitment for our Diocese to do all it can to aid in the investigation, to console any who are abused or hurt, to respect our ecclesiastical disciplinary process while pushing for a speedy resolution …” he wrote.
Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed said the department is still in the very early stages of the investigation and couldn’t provide any details at this time other than the department is only investigating the one alleged incident at the moment. No charges have been filed against White in either state as of yet.
“The Episcopal Church themselves have sent a letter encouraging church members to come forward,” he said. “If they have information about past incidents they can reach out to the church or law enforcement.”
As of Tuesday morning, Rev. Canon Jim Pritchett said the church hadn’t received any other calls or emails regarding accusations against White but would continue to work closely with law enforcement and their investigations.
“We’ve tried to be as open and honest as we can and of course we’re just as disturbed by these accusations as everyone else,” he said.
While the Diocese of Western North Carolina was quick to make the allegations public, alleged sexual abuse at St. George’s School in Rhode Island went unreported for many years.
An allegation reported to administration in 2012 finally led the school to hire an independent firm in 2015 to conduct an extensive investigation into widespread sexual abuse at the school. During the span of the investigation, more than 100 people came forward to provide information about alleged abuse — some of it firsthand and some of it hearsay.
“Based on credible statements and documents provided by witnesses who were at the school in the 1970s and 1980s, the investigation has received 26 credible first-hand accounts (as well as other corroborating evidence) strongly suggesting that three former employees of the school engaged in sexual misconduct with regard to multiple students, and that there were 23 victims of sexual misconduct by these three employees,” the report stated.
More than 40 former students have now come forward to report sexual abuse since the school released its report in December 2015. Only four of the seven accused perpetrators are still alive, including White, who currently resides in Bedford, Pennsylvania.
According to the report, White was employed with St. George’s until he abruptly left in 1974 after a male student reported to the school administration that White had sexually abused at least three male students. The investigation report stated White was quickly terminated after the misconduct was reported to Anthony Zane, the headmaster at the time, but the school did not report the abuse to authorities.
“Mr. Zane confronted this employee, who admitted to the misconduct. Thereafter, Mr. Zane also tried to prevent this employee from getting another job that would involve contact with students,” the report stated. “In the course of this investigation, the School has made a report about his misconduct to the Rhode Island State Police.”
Since the allegations of abuse have surfaced, Bishop Audry Scanlan with the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania issued a letter to members saying White was retired but serves as a long-term supply priest at St. James Episcopal Church in Bedford.
“I have moved to immediately restrict Fr. White’s ministry and to provide for the pastoral care of the congregation that he currently serves,” she wrote. “I have no information that leads me to believe that there have been any incidents of abuse at St. James, Bedford, but it is imperative that we employ all the safeguards that are available to us while the investigation of the Rhode Island State Police continues and while the formal ecclesiastical discipline process involving Fr. White unfolds.”