Joseph O'Callaghan, Professor Emeritus at Jesuit run Fordham University and an Officer of VoiceCOMMENTARY By Paul Kendrick
of the Faithful's Bridgeport, CT affiliate, is the national VOTF organization's choice for its 2012
"Catherine of Sienna Award."
But four years ago, when the rubber hit the road for VOTF's O'Callaghan, he found himself between a rock and a hard place. He could speak out for truth, justice and accountability on behalf of more than two dozen Haitian children who were reporting that they were being sexually abused by Douglas Perlitz, U.S. citizen Executive Director of Project Pierre Toussaint (a boarding school in northern Haiti operated by Fairfield University's Campus Ministry operation), or he could do and say nothing in order to protect and preserve his and VOTF's cozy and comfortable relationship with Fairfield University and the New England Jesuits.
When the first reports of the sexual abuse of these Haitian children made their way back to affluent Fairfield County, CT in late 2007, the Catholic organizations (Fairfield University, New England Jesuits, Order of Malta) that had so proudly supported the Haiti school for more than a decade, abandoned the victims entirely. Fairfield University's former campus ministry director, Rev. Paul Carrier, S.J., and eleven other supporters of Perlitz (including other Fairfield University employees) wrote a letter to donors in which they called the abuse victims liars. The school in Haiti was forced to close for lack of funds. The children were forced back into the streets with nothing to eat, no safe place to sleep, no money for school tuition and the horror and trauma of their abuse by Douglas Perlitz.
Perlitz, an alumnus of Fairfield University, is a former keynote commencement speaker and "Alumnus of the Year." The university took every opportunity to brag about Perlitz's humanitarian work in Haiti. For ten years, the campus ministry operation, led by Jesuit priest, Paul Carrier, immersed itself in managing and raising money for the school in Haiti.
In December 2010, Perlitz was sentenced to almost 20 years in a U.S. federal prison.
When survivor advocates in New England raised money to help pay for a weekly ration of spaghetti and beans, books, school supplies, tuition, glasses and shoes for the abuse victims, O'Callaghan and his VOTF cronies in Connecticut didn't lift a finger to help.
When officials at Fairfield University and the New England Province of Jesuits tried to cover up the abuse of children at Project Pierre Toussaint, O'Callaghan and his VOTF organization remained silent.
O'Callaghan and the VOTF Bridgeport affiliate are closely aligned with Dr. Paul Lakeland, Chairman of Fairfield University's Catholic Studies program. VOTF Bridgeport members hold their annual conference on the Fairfield University campus. Two years in a row, I asked for just ten minutes time to address the annual conference's attendees about the plight of the abuse victims in Haiti. O'Callaghan and his VOTF team said "No" on both occasions.
You see, it is more important to Joseph O'Callaghan that he get along with the powers that be at Fairfield University and the Jesuits of New England. O'Callaghan enjoys the prestige of Dr. Paul Lakeland's friendship and does not want to be out of favor with his long time former employer, Fordham University and the Jesuits in New York. It is important to O'Callaghan that his VOTF group be able to hold their annual conference at Fairfield University in cooperation with Fairfield's Catholic Studies Program.
In April 2011, the first of 24 landmark civil lawsuits was filed in Federal Court in Connecticut. Defendants include Fairfield University, The New England Jesuits and the Order of Malta, among others, all of whom are employing hardball tactics in their pursuit of legal loopholes and technicalities to avoid bringing the civil cases before a jury.
Yet, Joseph O'Callaghan, VOTF's 2012 Catherine of Sienna award winner remains silent. He says and does absolutely nothing to support these abuse victims in their pursuit of a fair measure of justice for their harms and injuries and the failure of individuals and institutions to protect them.