Activists Failed to Disclose Ex-Priest's Past, U.S. Lawmaker Says

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
February 26, 2005

DALLAS _ Catholic peace activists failed to disclose the sexually abusive past of one of their key allies in strife-torn Haiti, a prominent U.S. congresswoman said Friday.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., spoke after she had urged the U.S. ambassador in Haiti to safeguard defrocked American priest Ron Voss, who has been detained twice this week for questioning about a massive jailbreak there.

Waters said she learned only later, from a Dallas Morning News report Friday, that Voss had admitted abusing many adolescent boys.

"They probably should have told me," she said of the antiwar group Pax Christi USA, at whose behest she had written the ambassador. "Certainly this is problematic and unfortunate."

Pax Christi USA spokesman Johnny Zokovitch said he and executive director David Robinson also learned about Voss' past from The Dallas Morning News. But some people active with the group's Haiti task force did know, according to interviews and correspondence.

One of them, William Slavick of Maine, said the failure to inform the congresswoman was "probably an innocent mistake." Task force leaders thought highly of Voss and did not want to believe reports about his history, he said.

Those leaders did not respond to a phone message Friday night. Ambassador James Foley's office declined to comment.

Voss left his native Indiana to work in Haiti in the 1980s, about the time that his victims began complaining to church officials there. Those officials said he had never faced criminal charges.

For much of the past decade, Voss has been a leader in the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas, through which hundreds of U.S. congregations have "adopted" needy ones in Haiti. It is based in Nashville, Tenn., where diocesan leaders recently learned about Voss and pressed the program's executive to cut ties with him.

Voss also runs Visitation House in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince. It provides lodging for U.S. missionaries, as well as various services to local adults and children.

Citing his access to unsuspecting and vulnerable people, the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests asked Haiti's government Friday to investigate whether Voss had harmed children there.

Slavick said he had visited Voss and saw no sign of inappropriate behavior. Like other supporters of the ex-cleric, he denounced as politically motivated Haitian authorities' allegation that a recent jail break was plotted at Visitation House.

Voss is close to ex-priest and former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted in a coup last year.


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