Group Keeps Sounding Alarm about Former Hoosier Priest

By Ruth Holladay
Indianapolis Star [Lafayette IN]
October 19, 2004

Paul Kendrick stood outside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette for two hours Sunday. He and six other protesters quietly passed out hundreds of leaflets. For the most part, they endured the indifference or even hostility of fellow Catholics.

Kendrick can stand that -- he didn't even mind that somebody called the police on him and members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

That's because the 55-year-old stockbroker from Portland, Maine, sees himself as practicing the tough social justice he learned years ago at his Jesuit prep school and college. He is living out the Jesuit motto of "being men and women for others," he says, by trying to educate Catholics, and yes, alarm them, about a former Indiana priest now living in Haiti -- and the role of bishops in protecting certain priests and ex-priests.

Kendrick's target Sunday was Ron Voss, now in his early 60s. Ordained into the Lafayette diocese, Voss was accused by eight, possibly nine, male teens of sexual abuse in Indiana. In 1988, he received treatment for being a sexual offender. Afterwards he moved to Haiti, where he had done mission work. In 1993, he quit the priesthood.

Voss now runs Visitation House in Port au Prince -- a guest facility for those who come to Haiti to aid the poorest of the poor. The house is affiliated with the Catholic Church's Parish Twinning Program, which helps U.S. parishes foster Haitian churches. The Indiana contingent of the program held a conference Sunday in Lafayette.

So why should an affluent Maine resident, husband of a social worker, a cradle Catholic, himself a mission worker to Haiti twice, care so much about an Indiana conference?

Simple, he says. In his role as a founding member of the Voice of the Faithful in Maine, he has had too many late-night calls from victims of sex abuse by priests. He has witnessed too much hurt. He prefers to comfort the afflicted -- and afflict the offenders.

"Ron Voss is by his own admission a sexual offender," says Kendrick. "We believe he has other victims out there, who have not come forward. We also feel that he poses a threat to the safety of the especially vulnerable children of Haiti."

Kendrick uses heart disease as an analogy -- just as a person who has had a series of heart attacks should never be far from a hospital, so should a person with a compulsion to sexually abuse young people not be far from a daily program. And if Voss is serious about recovery, adds Kendrick, he should come back to the United States and face his accusers. Attempts to reach Voss in Haiti were unsuccessful.

Least you think Voss is the sole object of this wrath, not so. Kendrick and the survivors network want bishops to actively reach out to victims and to cease protecting offenders. They want accountability.

Kendrick says he was pretty much indifferent to this subject until 1999. That's when he learned that his beloved Jesuit prep school had covered up students' sex-abuse allegations against a former track coach.

But this is no seamless issue for Catholics. Voss, for instance, has many defenders in Indiana, including Joe Zelenka, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Indianapolis. Zelenka, well-known as a social justice activist, has been to Haiti more than 30 times.

He knows Voss well. He is adamant about the good work Voss does -- and the mandate to not judge. "They have no knowledge of what is going on with Ron. My honest feeling is that they are projecting on him that he is most likely abusing children. I happen to know Ron had gone to a treatment center, and he continues to see a therapist."

Kendrick can take it. One Catholic told him to "get a life," he says.

He believes he has one.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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