The University community has continued to deal with the repercussions of the allegations against Doug Perlitz ’92, who was charged with sexually abusing children attending his Haitian school. The scandal came to light two weeks ago and since then the University has been under some scrutiny. Not only is Perlitz a Fairfield alum and the 2002 commencement speaker, but the University has also helped to raise funds for his organization in the past years.
In a statement to the entire University community last week, University President Father Jeffrey von Arx said, “If the allegations against Doug Perlitz are true … then it will be a tragic outcome for the affected group of children in Haiti and the irreparable harm caused them, as well as for the members of the University community who donated their time and support to this cause.”
“As a University, it is important that we take appropriate steps to respond to the situation,” von Arx continued in the statement.
One of the steps the University has taken thus far has been addressing the issue during masses this past Sunday. At the opening of his most recent homily, during the 9 p.m. mass geared towards students, Fr. James Bowler began by saying, “I have two homilies for you tonight. A longer one which I will give now, and a shorter one later.” The shorter homily Bowler was referring to was an expression of his reaction to the issue that appeared on the front page of The Mirror last week. Bowler expressed his anger and sadness over the situation, and alluded to the hurtful affects the various priest scandals in Boston has had on the Catholic Church. Bowler urged students to take the issue seriously and to know that the University most certainly is as well.
Fr. Gerald Blaszczak, the University chaplain, invited members of the congregation to gather after the morning mass for prayer and mutual support. He said about 55 or 60 people attended.
Rama Sudhakar, the vice president of marketing and communications, said, “In the near future, a campus forum will be organized to reflect on the University’s mission and core principles related to helping and serving the poor.”
However, the University that once supported Perlitz has found itself wondering about certain issues in the two weeks after the indictment. Among the many questions expected to come up in litigation is how exactly the donated money was used.
The University plans to seek outside council to conduct an internal review of campus support and Mass collections. Sudhakar confirmed that “the University has retained outside counsel from Day Pitney LLP.”
Von Arx stated that the institution has no oversight on the two organizations that directly supported Perlitz: the Haiti Fund and Project Pierre Toussaint.
Many University and Fairfield community members are on the board of the Haiti Fund. Because the situation is currently under a grand jury investigation, Sudhakar could not comment on whether any University members were subpeoned.
In efforts started by Rev. Paul Carrier, a former director of campus ministry, over $2 million was collected at masses and sent to a bank account in Haiti controlled by Perlitz.
Carrier would continue to visit Perlitz, as he was his main contact to the University’s benefactors. It remains unclear if Carrier knew at any point the circumstances to the situation.
Perlitz was able to file his funds under 501c3 tax-exempt status, which usually avoids audits. This would in fact make it easier for Perlitz to hide his expenses on alcohol and drugs.
When asked if the Perlitz scandal would have an impact on the University’s charitable efforts in the future, Sudhakar responded, “We would hope not.”
“We will continue to dedicate ourselves to the mission to develop our students’ intellectual potential and prepare them to contribute to the common good, “she continued.