Editor’s Note – This is the fifth in a five part series of diary entries written by Fairfield alumnus Paul Kendrick ‘72, who spent the week of January 10th through January 16th in Haiti. Kendrick is a long time advocate for sex abuse victims and a co-founder of Voice of the Faithful in Maine, which formed in response to the Roman Catholic sex abuse cases. He had visited Project Pierre Touissant, which was run by fellow Fairfield alumnus Doug Perlitz ‘92 in 2003. Perlitz has been indicted by a Bridgeport grand jury on 19 counts of abusing Haitian children. His trial is scheduled to start in May.
Cap-Haitien – No more discussions, no more meetings. Project Pierre Toussaint must reopen … immediately. Sadly, the Fairfield University community has been sending a disrespectful message to the people of Haiti: “If your children report that they are being sexually abused by one of us, we will abandon you.”
It’s about the children
According to a 2006 UNICEF report, children who are forced to live on the streets are deprived of affection and protection. The street children served by Project Pierre Toussaint did not have access to food and education, and were constantly under the threat of all kinds of violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation. To stay alive, many of them wash cars, load buses, or beg, while others become involved with armed gangs in the hope of protection and a better chance of survival. The health and hygiene conditions for street children are precarious. Many of them suffer from a range of skin and respiratory diseases, as well as sexually transmitted infections. HIV/AIDS infection rate is as high as 20 per cent among street children, with most cases being among girls.
Remember, many of the kids who live on the streets are as young as six years old. Try and imagine that your little six-year-old boy or girl, or your six-year-old granddaughter or grandson, is abandoned on the streets of Miami. Think a little more. Where will they sleep? How will they stay warm in the chill of the night? Will your child get enough to eat at the dumpsters? Watch as your child wanders aimlessly with tears flowing from her eyes.
Fairfield University basked in the shining grace of Project Pierre Toussaint
There can be no argument that the Fairfield University community proudly aligned itself with Doug Perlitz’s humanitarian work in Haiti. In the minds of many, Perlitz was the personification of a Jesuit education; he was a “person for others.”
For eleven years, Fairfield University’s campus ministry operation, under the direction of Rev. Paul Carrier, S.J., immersed itself in Project Pierre Toussaint. The Egan Chapel was filled with photos, newsletters, etc. about Perlitz and Project Pierre Toussaint. Father Carrier traveled to Haiti once a month and spoke with Perlitz by phone several times each day.
Carrier was always asking the editors of university magazines and newsletters to publish stories about the Haiti project. In addition, Carrier raised money for the Project whenever he spoke at local parishes. In many ways, Paul Carrier was the kind of guy a non-profit would like to have on their team. He was a successful, energetic, charismatic “rainmaker” who knew how to tug at people’s hearts.
Interestingly, the Haiti Fund, Inc., a non-profit corporation that was established by Carrier to oversee the Project, used a Fairfield University mailing address to accept donations. Carrier chaperoned many “Ignatian Immersion Experience” trips to Haiti with students from the University. In 2002, Perlitz was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and delivered the commencement address. In 2005, Perlitz was the recipient of the Alumni Humanitarian Award at the annual Fairfield University Awards Dinner in New York City.
Then, in April 2006, for reasons still not entirely clear, Carrier was removed without warning as Director of Fairfield’s Campus Ministry to embark upon a sabbatical to prepare for his next assignment. Two years later in April 2008, Jesuit Provincial Thomas Regan, S.J., ordered Carrier to resign as Chairman of the Haiti Fund, Inc. and to resign from his non-salaried teaching position at the Sacred Heart Convent School in Greenwich. In October 2009, it was announced by the Provincial that Carrier was restricted from all public ministry. There have been no charges of child sex abuse that I am aware of against Carrier.
In October 2008, I wrote to Dr. Mark Reed, Vice President for Administrative and Student Affairs at Fairfield University with a reasonable request to help protect children (at the time, Perlitz’s whereabouts were unknown). I wrote:
“If a person were to visit the Fairfield University web site and enter “Douglas Perlitz” in the search bar, one would immediately view 25 Fairfield University press releases about Perlitz. After reading the press releases, one would think that Perlitz is a saint, a special individual who has devoted his life to helping others. Think about this. If the owner of a day care center googled Perlitz’s name as part of the hiring process, he or she would think they hit the jackpot and would most likely hire Perlitz immediately. They would have no idea that the Project Pierre Toussaint Board of Directors is on record as having fired Perlitz for the sexual abuse of children … Please ensure that the information about why Douglas Perlitz was fired as Executive Director of Project Pierre Toussaint (you can publish the Board’s public letter) is published on the Fairfield University website … Protecting innocent children from cunning and manipulative child molesters is everyone’s job, Dr. Reed.”
Six months later, in April 2009, I sent Reed a copy of the warrant for Perlitz’s arrest that had just been issued by a Haitian National Court judge. Again, Reed took no action. Other senior officials, including President von Arx were sent copies of all correspondence with Reed.
What’s really troubling is that, even now, if one accesses the Fairfield University Web site and enters “Douglas Perlitz” or “Perlitz” in the search bar, nothing about the federal indictment or his arrest and incarceration for child sex abuse charges appears along with the many links to his awards and commendations. In fact, the University’s official September 2009 statement about Perlitz’s arrest is buried deep in the “Press Room” archive.
Out of sight, out of mind, I suppose. In addition, the University’s official statement refers to Perlitz’s child sex abuse victims as “young men.” The boys who were abused are “children.” Perlitz committed felony sex crimes against them. The words we use say a lot about how we really feel and think about something.
The Children Left Behind
By April 2008, the New England Society of Jesus and Fairfield University officials were distancing themselves from a situation that had all the earmarks of a “scandal.” Although Perlitz wasn’t fired by the Board of Directors until August 2008, Carrier was ordered to resign from the Board four months earlier. Sadly, it is evident that neither Carrier nor Jesuit and Fairfield University officials cared about the well being of the boys in Haiti who were abused and about to be displaced.
In September 2008, when Carrier and other former board members sent a letter to financial donors in which they disparaged and berated the individuals who fired Perlitz and implied that the Haitian boys were lying, where were the prophetic voices of President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J. and Jesuit Provincial, Thomas Regan, S.J.?
Why weren’t these Jesuit priests rushing to the aid of a beaten down Board of Directors who were fighting for the school’s survival against Carrier and his allies. It is incredible to me that three Jesuit priests, von Arx, Carrier and Regan stood on the sidelines and said nothing as the Project’s donors stopped giving, the Project closed and helpless kids were forced back on the streets with nothing to eat and no place safe to sleep.
Damn. Somewhere in my old textbooks it says that the service of my faith must include the promotion of justice.
Someone’s eyes were closed
In a June 2002 address to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops entitled “The Experience of the Victim of Sexual Abuse,” Dr. Mary Gail Frawley-O’Dea, Ph.D. said in part, “If it takes a community to raise a child, it also takes a community to abuse one so that whenever a minor is sexually violated, someone’s eyes are closed.
Throughout history and in every segment of society, the most common response to the suspicion or even the disclosure of childhood sexual abuse has been self-defensive denial and dissociation. No one finds it easy to stand in the overwhelming and destabilizing reality of sexual abuse. Thus, blindness, deafness, and elective mutism are responses endemic to many confronted by a victimized child, an adult survivor, or a perpetrating adult. To the extent, however, that the sexual victimization of a minor depends upon the silence of adults who knew, suspected, or should have known about the abuse, the burdens of shame and reparation reach beyond the perpetrator.”
We are showing great disrespect to the Haitian people
The Haitian people I have come to know and admire possess great pride and dignity. There is a kindness and compassion about them that only those who have been oppressed and those who have suffered can know. The people of Haiti are proud of who they are and where they have been. A Haitian friend said to me, “As hard as it’s been for the people of Haiti, it is still better than living as the slaves we once were.”
It is inconceivable to me that the mighty and powerful forces of the New England Jesuits, Fairfield University and the Order of Malta cannot get this school up and running ASAP. Just as important to me is reassuring the boys who were abused by Perlitz that they are entitled to amends and reparations for the harm and injuries inflicted upon them as a result of their abuse. They must receive a full measure of justice for the horrific crimes committed against them.
Every day that goes by and the school remains closed is but one more day that we are showing great disrespect for the people of Haiti. As it stands now, our message to our brothers and sisters in Haiti is loud and clear: “One of us raped your children. Your children told us their secrets. Now, we choose to abandon you.”
‘I hope God forgives me for what I have done,” said a boy who was sexually abused by Perlitz.
‘It wasn’t your fault,’ we said.
Paul Kendrick may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 207 838 1319