- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - An outspoken Roman Catholic who advocates for child sexual abuse victims has been relentless in targeting those he believes have mistreated children or covered up for abusers. A jury that was seated Monday will decide whether the combative activist went too far in a campaign against an orphanage founder in Haiti.

Hearts With Haiti, a nonprofit that raises money for the orphanage, and the U.S. citizen who founded the orphanage have accused activist Paul Kendrick of spreading falsehoods that have cost the charity more than $2 million in donations.

Kendrick said he’s eager for jurors in the defamation lawsuit to hear accusers testify in federal court about what he described as “unspeakable acts” performed by Michael Geilenfeld.

The trial, which begins with opening statements on Tuesday, is expected to last about three weeks. The plaintiffs, who say testimony will support damages in excess of more than $10 million, said in a court document that Kendrick has exhibited a “maniacal refusal against all reason” to acknowledge that his accusations were false and egregious.

“The defendant sets out to wreck careers, scare, harass, and humiliate kind-hearted, good people, with his recklessly leveled charges of support for child molesters or child abuse,” a lawyer wrote.

Kendrick, who lives in Freeport, Maine, said he’s giving a voice to those who needed one. “I raised the allegations for those who’ve been trying to do so for 25 years,” he said Monday.

While critics contend Kendrick is shrill and overzealous, his supporters say his tactics are sometimes necessary to obtain justice.

Michael Sweatt, a Catholic activist, helped Kendrick form the lay group Voice of the Faithful at the height of the clergy sex-abuse crisis that rocked the church. He believes Kendrick has done what he had to do to be heard.

“With child sex abuse, if you’re going to err, then you err on the side of protecting children,” Sweatt said. “The more people do nothing, the louder you have to yell, the louder you have to scream.”

Sue Bernard, former spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, is familiar with Kendrick’s take-no-prisoner tactics as the diocese’s main voice during the clergy abuse crisis.

He picketed weekly outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and once shouted at the bishop outside an event for young Catholics. He sent so many emails to Bernard that she had a giant file dedicated to Kendrick.

He didn’t leave her alone when she left for a job at Northern Maine Community College. He sent an email to the president urging him not to hire her, saying she wasn’t safe to be around children. He threatened to go the board and foundation.

Kendrick said Monday that he’d do it again.

Lawyers for Raleigh, North Carolina-based Hearts With Haiti said Kendrick used similar techniques against Geilenfeld, a former member of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity group who founded the St. Joseph’s Home for Boys in Port au Prince in 1985. They hold Kendrick responsible for Geilenfeld’s arrest last fall in Haiti.

Geilenfeld was released in April after a judge cleared him of criminal charges during a one-day trial in which none of the accusers was present. Haiti’s justice minister has said the verdict was improperly reached and there will be additional proceedings.

As the U.S. defamation suit gets underway, emotions are running so high that Judge John A. Woodcock took time to address the need for decorum with both parties while the jury was out of the Portland courtroom.

“Each of you will hear things that you profoundly disagree with and strike you to the core,” the judge said. “What I’m urging you to do is to not react. This is the way we resolve disputes in a civilized society.”

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