Fairfield University President Mark R. Nemec, Ph.D. and chairman of the board of trustees Frank J. Carroll III ‘89 released an announcement on Friday, Jan. 25 stating that the University and four other defendants had reached a $60 million settlement with 133 victims of sexual abuse by Fairfield alum Douglas Perlitz ’92. Perlitz founded Project Pierre Toussaint, a school for poverty-stricken boys in Haiti. In 2007, allegations of sexual abuse began to circulate regarding Perlitz. He plead guilty in 2010 and will be imprisoned until 2026.
The other defendants in the case include Rev. Paul Carrier, S.J., a former director of Campus Ministry, the Society of Jesus of New England, the Order of Malta and Hope Carter, a member of the Haiti Fund’s board of directors.
The settlement will be considered for approval by the federal court in Connecticut on Feb. 11.
Andrea Bierstein, a partner at Simmons Hanly Conroy Law Firm, sent the amended complaint filed Jan. 25 regarding the settlement with the defendants to The Mirror.
The complaint states that Fairfield University, as well as the Order of Malta, provided much of the funding to the Haiti Fund to operate Project Pierre Toussaint. This was also conducted through fundraising for PPT, and donations were “frequently made out to Fairfield University.” Students were encouraged to go to Project Pierre Toussaint as volunteers on service missions and were told to contact Carrier if they wanted to go to PPT. Other University staff members also visited PPT during the time of the abuse.
The amended complaint also claims that Carrier and Perlitz had a sexual relationship while Perlitz was a student at the University and Carrier was a chaplain. Carrier has also been accused by one of the 133 boys of molestation, but this is not a part of the settlement.
The amended complaint states that the University “knowingly benefitted [sp] financially from PPT by touting their involvement in PPT as a basis for fund-raising activities” and that it “knew or should have known that Perlitz was traveling to Haiti to engage in illicit sexual conduct with minors in Haiti.”
The Mirror reached out to the Executive Office of the President of Fairfield University for comment from legal affairs regarding the settlement. The Mirror was directed to Vice President of Marketing & Communications Jenn Anderson ‘97, MBA ‘02.
“The University played no role in the management or governance of either PPT or the Haiti Fund – the organization set up to raise money for PPT,” stated Anderson. “As an institution committed to service and social responsibility, the University – and a number of individuals associated with it -– generously donated to the effort, which was meant to support abandoned and homeless Haitian youth.”
Bierstein described the ‘red flags’ of sexual abuse at Project Pierre Toussaint. “So, we talk about the fact that the residence was a small house, and everyone there knew there were lots of boys sleeping in Perlitz’s room, and that included volunteers and volunteers from Fairfield who knew that the boys were in the house and staying in Perlitz’s bedroom.”
“Later there came a Jesuit trainee who noticed that the boys who were Perlitz’s favorites all had expensive clothes and high-end iPods and privileges that other boys didn’t have. The trainee noticed immediately that Perlitz had boys sleeping in his bedroom and with the door closed,” said Bierstein.
Mitchell Garabedian, the principle attorney of Garabedian Law, also represented plaintiffs in the case. He said that “Douglas Perlitz was always with children. He was always with children in his home. He was always with children in places where he shouldn’t have been. His contact with children was open and notorious. Other adults knew or should have known that his continual contact with children over years was a red flag.”
Bierstein explained that the complaint was not regarding what the University knew about Perlitz’s abuse, but what it should have known. “I think as most schools who deal with minor children, have safeguards and procedures in place to make it harder for people to take advantage of children in that scenario,” said Bierstein. “And that was our contention and lawsuits that the University and the other defendants did absolutely nothing to have any sort of rules or safeguards to check up on things.”
The plaintiffs argued that Fairfield University and the other defendants had a responsibility to provide oversight of PPT. “We believe very strongly based on the evidence, and the things the University said when they bragged about this being a program of Fairfield University and their involvement, that they were the ones who had the responsibility to put those safeguards in place and put procedures in place, and send people down to check up on what was going on,” said Bierstein.
Anderson described the University’s relationship to PPT.
“Fairfield University, like many universities, routinely provides donations to charitable causes,” said Anderson. “Those contributions are not indications of official affiliation with the recipient organizations, however, the University has taken steps to increase oversight regarding its philanthropic efforts and those organizations that Fairfield supports.”
The $60 million settlement will be divided between the University and other defendants. Anderson described Fairfield’s financial position. “A significant proportion of the funds to be used in the University’s contribution to the settlement will come through a University insurance carrier. The University has been planning for this litigation, and any difference has been allocated for and will not have material impact on the financial integrity of the University or its day-to-day operations in serving our students, faculty and the broader Fairfield Community. We will continue to make investments to enhance our facilities and our faculty to ensure that we provide a world-class education to our students.”
Perlitz’s actions of sexual abuse in Haiti is not the only instance where the Fairfield University community was informed of sexual abuse by individuals connected to Fairfield.
On Jan. 15, Nemec sent out a statement regarding the USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus’ release of a list of Jesuit priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. Thirteen of the priests listed had served at one point at Fairfield University or Fairfield College Preparatory School. Two of the priests who were on the list, Rev. Edmund Power and Rev. James Pratt, were accused of sexual misconduct at Fairfield Prep in 2003.
According to the list, Power only served at Fairfield Prep and Fairfield University; he died in 1976. The dates which he was found to have committed abuse happened when he was working at Fairfield Prep.
Paul Lakeland, the Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. chair in Catholic studies and professor of religious studies, said that in many cases, accusations weren’t made until many years later. “In many cases,” Lakeland said, “the offender is already dead when the accusation of abuse many years before is brought against him.”
Several of the priests listed served at more than one school or university. “I imagine that in some cases someone was aware of the abuse and had the individual moved somewhere else, and this would be long before the victim went public with the accusation,” said Lakeland. “The practice of moving abusers elsewhere, and not informing people at the new location why he has arrived, is something that was quite common in the past, but it is not possible to say from the record whether or not any particular Jesuit on the list was moved because he was an abuser.”
The list notes that all Jesuits who are under current investigation do not appear on the document.
“This is entirely appropriate, since it may be that the accusations have no foundation. But it does mean that there is no certainty that this will be the final list,” said Lakeland.
In his Jan. 15 statement, Nemec said that, “Fairfield University will continue to serve these efforts in any way we can – but most specifically as a University should – by encouraging dialogue, research, respectful conversation, and scholarship, and by holding ourselves as a community to the highest standards of humble self-examination and openness to true conversion of heart, so that we remain true to our mission to serve the faith and promote justice.”
Director of Campus Ministry, Fr. Mark Scalese, S.J. said, “Those impacted by sexual abuse from Catholic clergy, including from Jesuits, certainly deserve sincere contrition for the harm that has been done to them, as well as compassionate care to help heal the trauma they suffered, and assurance that measures are being taken to remedy the situation.”
Catholic studies and religious studies will be holding programs in response to clerical abuse this semester. On Feb. 2 at 4 p.m. professor of religious studies and Vice President of mission and identity Nancy Dallavalle will bring Susan Reynolds, professor of Catholic studies at Emory University to campus. Reynolds will be leading an event, similar to the living theology programs held last semester, with female alums. Reynolds is the lead author of a statement that asks Catholic bishops to resign from their positions following the release of the Aug. 14, 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse.
“Overall the responsibility of Catholic laypeople is to insist that their bishops take appropriate steps toward total transparency, and perhaps that serious questions should be asked about the church structures that over the years have encouraged or enabled sexual abuse of minors,” said Lakeland. “Moreover, Catholic laypeople (and not a few bishops) are becoming increasingly vocal in their insistence that bishops alone cannot solve a problem that is in large part of their own making, and that suitably qualified laypeople need to be appointed to positions of executive responsibility for the work of reform and healing.”
On March 30, a conference of theologians, sociologists and journalists will be meeting all day with a 3 p.m. event in the Dimenna Nyselius Library Multimedia Room titled “The Sex Abuse Scandal: What’s Next for the Catholic Church?”
Lakeland spoke as to Fairfield University’s responsibility to those affected by clerical sexual abuse.
“The responsibility of Catholic universities like Fairfield is to see to it that sexual misbehavior of all kinds does not occur on the campus. This includes the abuse of minors by clergy or anyone else, though of course almost all college students are not legal minors,” said Lakeland, “and the focus on this campus might therefore need to be on Prep rather than the university. But it is also true that disproportionate levels of power can lead to forms of abuse that may not technically be illegal but that are entirely reprehensible.”
The President of Fairfield Prep, Rev. Thomas M. Siminsky, S.J., released a statement on the list to the Prep community. In it, he stated, “At Fairfield Prep we have in place stringent guidelines with regard to sexual abuse, and robust processes to ensure that any form of harassment or bullying by anyone on our campus may be safely reported.”