Defamation trial involving Maine man, former head of orphanages set to start

By Judy Harrison
Bangor Daily News
July 05, 2015

Paul Kendrick, an outspoken advocate for victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, stands outside the Falmouth home of former Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland Bishop Richard Malone in this 2012 file photo.

PORTLAND, Maine — A civil trial set to begin Monday could justify claims that a former Catholic brother in Haiti sexually abused orphans for years or prove that a zealous advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse has been defaming Michael Geilenfeld so vehemently that he was wrongfully imprisoned for 237 days.

Geilenfeld, 63, of Port au Prince, Haiti, and Hearts with Haiti, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that raised money for the orphanages he ran, sued Paul Kendrick, 65, of Freeport in February 2013 in U.S. District Court. The plaintiffs claimed Kendrick’s false allegations that Geilenfeld, an Iowa native, sexually abused children has defamed the organization and caused fundraising events to be canceled.

The civil complaint was amended after Geilenfeld’s release from a Haitian jail to include a request for additional damages because of his “horrific experiences in prison.” In a pre-trial brief filed last month, Geilenfeld’s attorney, Peter DeTroy of Portland, claimed his client’s damages “far exceed[ed] $10 million.” The charity has claimed losses of more than $2 million in donations, according to court documents.

Kendrick in April was sanctioned by U.S. District Judge John Woodcock for publicly sharing documents that had been gathered during the discovery process. The Freeport man has claimed that beginning in 2011 he spoke out through emails and on a colleague’s blog out of concern for the children in the Haitian orphanages after meeting with alleged victims in the United States.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in federal court in Portland. The trial is scheduled to take three weeks with a verdict expected July 23 or 24.

Originally scheduled to be held in October, the trial was delayed after Geilenfeld was detained in Port au Prince beginning Sept. 5 while a criminal investigation into abuse allegations was conducted, according to a previously published report. He was released April 29 but was not charged with a crime.

Justice authorities in Haiti told the Associated Press in May that an appeal filed by lawyers for the alleged victims had been granted and the case will be re-examined.

In the meantime, Kendrick’s attorneys have listed seven potential witnesses who are expected to testify that they were abused as children by Geilenfeld. Two are to testify in person. The videotaped depositions of five alleged victims are to be shown to jurors.

Geilenfeld and current and former members of the Hearts with Haiti board are listed as potential witnesses for the plaintiffs. Geilenfeld is expected to deny that he ever sexually abused children at the orphanages. The Rev. Shelley Wily of Enson, Ohio, a past president of Hearts with Haiti, will testify about how the organization investigated Kendrick’s allegations of abuse, according to court documents.

Since being sanctioned by the judge, Kendrick has continued to criticize Geilenfeld and his legal team, led by David King of Bangor, in emails to reporters and other advocates. On June 11, during a deposition of Geilenfeld, Kendrick threatened to have him arrested by homeland security, according to court documents.

In December 2008, Kendrick clashed with former Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland Bishop Richard Malone. Malone obtained a police order and threatened church sanctions against Kendrick because he felt the man’s words and actions were “threatening to me personally and harmful to my ministry,” according to a previously published report.

Malone said in a statement that he turned the other cheek for nearly five years as the Freeport man flooded the diocese office with emails and held vigils outside his residence, the chancery and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where Malone often celebrated Mass.

But the final straw, Malone wrote, came on Dec. 16, 2008, when he needed a police escort to enter a building as Kendrick and others waited outside. A day later, Malone said he received a letter in which Kendrick threatened to become a distraction at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

“I decided that the line had been crossed beyond legitimate criticism of the church to what felt threatening to me personally and harmful to my ministry as your bishop. Constructive criticism is always welcome, but this kind of harassment is another matter altogether,” Malone wrote.

Kendrick claimed he was with the mother of an abuse victim who tried to speak to Malone on a sidewalk on Dec. 16, 2008, but the bishop walked by without saying a word. The advocate also has picketed the Falmouth home where Malone, who is now the bishop of Diocese of Buffalo, New York, lived.


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