Ex-Priest's Case Irks Lawmaker
She Says Activists Should Have Disclosed Man's History of Abuse

By Brooks Egerton
The Dallas Morning News [Dallas TX]
February 26, 2005

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.

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

"They probably should have told me," she said of Pax Christi USA, which had asked her to write the ambassador. "Certainly this is problematic and unfortunate."

A Pax Christi spokesman said executive director David Robinson also learned about Mr. Voss' past from The News. But some people active with the group's Haiti task force knew earlier.

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 Mr. Voss and did not want to believe reports about his history, he said.

Mr. Voss left his native Indiana to work in Haiti in the 1980s, when his victims began complaining to church officials. He never faced criminal charges.

Mr. Voss later became 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 Mr. Voss and pressed the program to cut ties with him.

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

Citing his access to vulnerable people, the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests asked Haiti's government to look into whether Mr. Voss had harmed children there. Mr. Slavick said he had visited Mr. Voss and saw no sign of misconduct.

He denounced as politically motivated Haitian authorities' allegation that a recent jailbreak was plotted at Visitation House. Mr. Voss is close to ex-priest and former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted in a coup last year.