$60 million settlement proposed in sex abuse lawsuit against New England Jesuits, others
More than 130 young men who say they were molested at a Haitian school would be paid $60 million under a proposed settlement with a New England-based group of Jesuits, Fairfield University, and others, lawyers for the former students announced Friday.
If approved by a federal judge in Connecticut, the proposed agreement involving misconduct at Project Pierre Toussaint School in Cap-Haitien stands out because it will benefit former students in one of the most impoverished nations in the world.
“This settlement is life-changing for my clients,” said Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian during a news conference in Stamford, Conn. “The victims were homeless, without food, without clothing, and without medicine.”
Court papers filed in federal court in Connecticut Friday show the defendants don’t admit to any liability as part of the proposed agreement and have already contributed the $60 million to pay for the settlement plan.
Garabedian had filed federal civil suits on behalf of former students at the school, who alleged they were molested by Douglas Perlitz, 48, a founder of the now-closed school. In 2010, Perlitz pleaded guilty to sexually abusing at least eight children over a decade in Haiti and was sentenced to nearly 20 years in US federal prison.
The lawsuits accused Fairfield University; the Rev. Paul Carrier, a former chaplain there; the Society of Jesus of New England; the Order of Malta — American Association; and others of failing to supervise Perlitz.
One boy alleged he was also sexually abused by Carrier , who is a Jesuit, Garabedian said at Friday’s news conference. In a phone interview, Carrier’s lawyer, Timothy P. O’Neill, disputed the accusation, calling it “absolute nonsense.”
Fairfield is a Jesuit institution. Money for the school in Haiti was provided by Fairfield University, Order of Malta — American Association, and the Haiti Fund Inc., a now-defunct Connecticut charity that helped raise money for the project, court records show.
The settlement proposal filed in court seeks to compensate anyone who was sexually abused by Perlitz or Carrier between Jan. 1, 1996, and July 1, 2009, and claims that misconduct was the result of negligence on behalf of institutions and people who supported the school.
The settlement isn’t the largest reached by a Roman Catholic institution over child sex abuse claims, but is notable because it arose from misconduct that allegedly occurred at a single establishment, said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, a watchdog group.
The largest settlement on record was reached in 2007 by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles for $660 million, he said. A Jesuit group, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, reached a $166.1 million agreement during bankruptcy proceedings in 2011.
“It’s still really important,” McKiernan said of the current settlement.
The proposed agreement was announced 10 days after the USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus published the names of 50 Jesuits who were credibly accused of molesting children since 1950.
Carrier wasn’t on the list. A federal lawsuit filed in 2014 accused Carrier of molesting a boy in Haiti between 1999 and 2005, beginning when the child was 11 years old.
In 2016, a judge dismissed two sex abuse claims brought in the lawsuit, records show. But the case remains pending and includes an accusation against Carrier, said William H. Gordon, a lawyer in Garabedian’s office.
Garabedian said Carrier now lives at the Campion Center, a Jesuit retreat in Weston.
A spokesman for the USA Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus said Carrier has been stripped of his ministerial duties but said he doesn’t know where Carrier lives. A call and e-mail to the center weren’t returned Friday.
Mike Gabriele, the Jesuit spokesman, said the order will launch an investigation into the sexual misconduct claims against Carrier once the civil litigation ends.
Court papers said Perlitz established the school for Haitian children in 1997 with help from Carrier and others. The men have known each other since at least the late 1980s, when Perlitz attended Fairfield University and had a sexual relationship with Carrier, according to lawsuits filed over sexual misconduct allegations at Project Pierre Toussaint.
Lawyers began negotiating the proposed settlement seven months ago during mediation sessions, Garabedian said.
How much each defendant paid wasn’t revealed, though Fairfield University said a significant portion of its payment will be covered by insurance. The Jesuit province, Carrier, Order of Malta, and a woman involved with raising money for the school also participated in the settlement, said attorney Andrea Bierstein, who also represented the former students. The Order of Malta didn’t return a phone message Friday.
The settlement plan also seeks $1.2 million from the defendants for administering the agreement, court records show. A judge is expected to consider the proposal during a hearing in Connecticut on Feb. 11. Lawyers for the boys want the deal to be structured like a class-action settlement with the money divided among the students, who are now all adults, Bierstein said.
In statements, the Jesuit province and Fairfield University said they had no role in running the school in Haiti.
“We nonetheless deeply regret that anyone experienced any abuse, harm, or suffering in connection with that project,” the province said in a statement. “We hope that this resolution of the litigation will provide some measure of closure and relief to all those affected, though we recognize the enduring pain that accompanies survivors of sexual abuse.”
Frank J. Carroll III, chairman of the board of trustees at Fairfield University, and Mark R. Nemec, the school’s president, wrote in a letter that “everyone in our community has been saddened by these events.”
“Our prayers are with all those whose trust has been betrayed, and we hope that these proceedings and the settlement reached will give some measure of relief to the victims,” they wrote.
On Friday, he said he was contacting his clients in Haiti.
“They are aware of what’s going on, but they just have basic life needs that have to be met right now,” Garabedian said. “It’s an honor to represent them. I’ve learned so much about survival from these brave children.”