Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of diary entries written by Fairfield alumnus Paul Kendrick ’72, who is currently spending a week in Haiti. Kendrick is an advocate for sex abuse victims and member of the organization Voice of the Faithful, 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. Last year, Perlitz was indicted by a Bridgeport grand jury on ten counts of abusing Haitian children. His trial is scheduled to start in April.
Cap-Haitien, Haiti – For me, it was a highly emotional day. There I was, sitting in a small office at Justinian Hospital, face to face with two of the many former students who have reported to law enforcement officials that they were sexually abused by Douglas Perlitz, former executive director of Project Pierre Toussaint and Fairfield University alumnus.
Also in the room was Margaret, a compassionate and loving Haitian social worker who has devoted her time and energy to helping the boys by being available to listen to their problems, and Cyrus Sibert, the Haitian journalist who first broke the story about the allegations of abuse against Perlitz in late 2007. Margaret was previously employed as the social worker at the Project’s daytime “drop-in” center.
I had decided before traveling to Haiti that I want the boys who have reported their abuse to know that there are tens of thousands of abuse survivors, along with their supporters, advocates and caring and concerned people in the United States and elsewhere, who support and encourage their efforts to bring these charges before the U.S. judicial system. Further, I want to know from people here in Haiti what they think it would take to resurrect the Project and reopen the school.
As a long time advocate for priest abuse victims in the Church, I have watched time and time again as Catholic parishioners have rallied to the support and defense of a popular and well-liked priest with no regard for the well being of the alleged victim(s) and no consideration of the evidence being presented. The same situation occurred in this case, as many prominent and influential Fairfield County Catholics abandoned the alleged victims, insinuated that the boys were lying and lobbied financial donors in such a way that funds dried up and the Project was forced to close.
It broke my heart to listen to the boys tell me their stories. It’s difficult to remain calm when an innocent child has been forced to endure such horrific trauma. The disgusting details of their abuse would cause most people to turn away. As in most child sex abuse cases, the boys were groomed by a cunning, manipulative and charismatic child molester. One of the boys told me that Doug told him that he was like a father to the boy.
When I began to speak to the boys, my voice cracked and I had to take a moment to compose myself. I told them that what happened to them should never happen to any child. I told them that it was not their fault. I thanked them for having the courage to report their abuse to law enforcement officials. I thanked them for helping to protect other children.
How can we help you, I asked?
These kids are the poorest of the poor. Cyrus showed me the roof that they sleep on each night behind a church. They have no blankets or pillows. There’s nothing for them to eat when they awake in the morning. There’s no place for them to take a shower. They are always hungry.
I hadn’t thought of it when Cyrus mentioned to me that, sadly, the boys who attended the school have received one very clear message: report child abuse and you will have no school or drop-in center to go to, you will have no place to sleep, no food to eat, many people will attack you for causing problems and some will even threaten you.
It was a great privilege and honor to be with the two boys, Cyrus and Margaret today.
In 2002, an Ursuline nun from Waterville, Maine wrote the Stations of the Cross for child abuse victims. She said in part: “The sexual abuse of a child is a non-erasable fact. It affects the healthy lives of young and old, rich and poor, successful and not successful.”
And I also remember well the words of former Superior General, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., who said, “When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.”