Jury to Decide Whether Sex Abuse Claims Defamed Haitian Orphanage

By Darren Fishell
Bangor Daily News
July 23, 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.

Jurors entered deliberations Thursday over whether a Freeport advocate for children sexually abused by clergy members defamed the operator of an orphanage in Haiti.

At issue is a public awareness campaign launched by Paul Kendrick, 65, against 63-year-old Catholic brother Michael Geilenfeld and the North Carolina-based nonprofit for which he worked in 2011. Kendrick argues that Geilenfeld sexually abused boys he had taken in at an orphanage in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and that the nonprofit had turned a blind eye.

Geilenfeld and the nonprofit orphanage sued Kendrick for defamation and are seeking compensation for damage to their reputation and an estimated loss of more than $2 million in donations.

Attorneys for both sides delivered closing arguments Thursday to a 10-person jury that will need to return a unanimous verdict to rule against Kendrick in the defamation charges pursued by Geilenfeld and the nonprofit Hearts with Haiti.

Peter DeTroy, the attorney representing Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, delivered a closing argument that lasted for 90 minutes Thursday, as the third week of the trial comes to a close.

DeTroy said the “scourge” of child sexual abuse looms large over the case, but urged caution to the jury in weighing testimony of the seven men who said they were abused by Geilenfeld as children or teenagers while staying at the orphanage.

“When we hear these allegations, it’s hard not to credit them,” DeTroy said. “Our instinct is to protect.”

DeTroy argued that investigations by Haitian officials, U.S. officials and an internal investigation by the nonprofit have not verified the sexual abuse claims against Geilenfeld and called Kendrick’s statements against his clients “cyber vigilantism.”

He showed the jury a series of emails from early 2011 from Kendrick, which he said showed Kendrick saw a need for more evidence against Geilenfeld at a time when he was publishing statements of Geilenfeld’s guilt and Hearts with Haiti’s complicity.

DeTroy also argued that if jurors believed the testimony of the victims in the trial, they should consider that the victims said they were sexually abused by Geilenfeld in the 1990s and that there was no evidence to support Kendrick’s claims of ongoing sexual abuse at the time of the allegations in 2011.

David Walker, Kendrick’s attorney, argued against a narrative that Kendrick was a lone crusader against Geilenfeld and Hearts with Haiti, citing emails from members of the organization’s board of directors showing internal conflicts and debates about the veracity of the claims against Geilenfeld.

The more than two hours of closing arguments came after several hours of testimony and presentation of evidence for and against Kendrick’s claims and statements against Geilenfeld since 2011.

The jury’s deliberations center around whether Kendrick defamed Geilenfeld and whether he defamed Hearts with Haiti or inappropriately interfered with their business.

If the jury finds in favor of Geilenfeld or Hearts with Haiti, they could choose to award compensatory damages both for the actual calculated losses in donations and other presumed damages like harm to reputation and emotional distress.

Meanwhile, a court finding that there was inadequate evidence to pursue sexual abuse charges against Geilenfeld in Haiti has been appealed and the investigation there could continue.








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