PORTLAND, Maine — A North Carolina nonprofit that raises money for three orphanages and a day school in Haiti run by a former Catholic brother has sued a Freeport man in federal court over his statements that children have been sexually abused by the facilities’ founder.
Hearts With Haiti Inc., based in Raleigh, N.C., and Michael Geilenfeld, executive director of St. Joseph Family of Haiti, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Paul Kendrick in U.S. District Court. The plaintiffs allege that Kendrick’s false allegations that Geilenfeld has sexually abused children has defamed the organization and caused fundraising events in the U.S. to be cancelled.
The plaintiffs are asking U.S. District Judge John Woodcock to order Kendrick to stop making the statements and to remove all those that have been published on the Internet. The lawsuit also is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages
Peter DeTroy, the Portland attorney who represents Hearts With Haiti and Geilenfeld, on Thursday denied Kendrick’s abuse allegations.
“The reality is there are no kids being abused or who have been abused,” DeTroy said.
The attorney said that the complaint laid out direct evidence linking Kendrick’s postings to the loss of revenue from events.
“From his desk in Freeport, Maine, via hundreds of Internet publications and mass emails to third parties, defendant has published false and heinous allegations of plaintiffs’ involvement in child abuse and otherwise bullied, intimidated, and tortiously interfered with plaintiff’s benefactors, volunteers, and supporters,” the complaint said.
Kendrick, who has been an advocate for victims of clergy abuse for many years, stood by his assertions. He said the in the past decade, he has made seven trips to Haiti.
“This lawsuit is an attempt to silence me from trying to protect Haitian children from being sexually abused and my efforts to bring a measure of justice to those who have already been abused,” Kendrick said in an email Thursday.
“The good news about this lawsuit is that the Haitian children who were sexually abused will finally have the opportunity to confront their abuser in the safety of a U.S. courtroom,” he continued. “The plaintiffs in this lawsuit are calling the victims liars. Their attempts to silence me will only serve to make the victims’ voices stronger and more forceful.”
Geilenfeld founded and operates a network of “nonprofit institutions that provide residence, room and board, formal education, and religious education to disabled and disadvantaged Haitian children,” the complaint said.
About 57 children live in the residential facilities and 135 attend the day school. Shortly after the first residential home, St. Joseph’s Home for Boys, was established in 1985, Geilenfeld founded the Resurrection Dance Theater of Haiti, according to the complaint. The troupe has performed throughout the U.S. and raises significant funds for the facilities in Haiti through Hearts with Haiti.
Since 2001, the North Carolina nonprofit has raised nearly $5 million, the complaint said. Because of Kendrick’s emails, blogs and website postings over the past two years, performances by the dance troupe were cancelled in Iowa, Maryland, Virginia and Wisconsin.
In 2008, Bishop Richard Malone, then head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, obtained a criminal trespass order that banned Kendrick from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. Malone, who is now the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., also obtained a protection from harassment order against Kendrick.
Kendrick also was warned by a diocesan official of possible church-imposed penalties if he came within 500 feet of the bishop or entered a building when Malone was present.