Monday, October 26, 2009

Duarte's Arrest 'Devastating' to Local Catholic Community

Original article

The OPP are making plans for officers to travel to the Dominican Republic to take custody of a former Windsor priest who is facing multiple charges here of molesting teenage boys at the mission he founded in Haiti.

Const. Shawna Coulter, media relations officer for the Essex OPP detachment, said Thursday that John Duarte, 44, of Windsor, is in custody in the Dominican Republic and extradition proceedings are under way.

Duarte is charged under the Criminal Code with nine counts of sexual exploitation of boys between the ages of 12 and 17.

Acting on an arrest warrant issued by a Windsor justice of the peace in August, Dominican authorities arrested Duarte at a hotel in Sousua, near Puerto Plata, Oct. 20.

Coulter said the arrest was made under a section of the Criminal Code which provides for a Canadian citizen to be prosecuted for certain offences committed outside of Canada that would result in criminal charges if they occurred here.

“Extradition is under way and we’re just waiting,” Coulter said.

She said no date has been set for Duarte’s return.

On Thursday, a retired Windsor police detective who ran a girl’s orphanage in Haiti, said he had concerns about Duarte when the priest was a young seminarian working in the impoverished Caribbean country in the early 1990s.

Frank Chauvin said he was asked by a Haitian colleague working with troubled youth in the capital Port-au-Prince, to look into a situation where young boys were being sexually exploited at an orphanage.

In the course of taking the boys’ statements, which he intended to hand over to Haitian police, Chauvin said he became aware the American man who was allegedly abusing the children was living in the house with a Canadian seminarian. He discovered it was Duarte.

Although Duarte’s name never came up in the boys’ statements, Chauvin said alarm bells went off.

“He was a seminarian living with a suspected pedophile,” said Chauvin. “He was spending a lot of time there. It wasn’t right to have a seminarian from London down there in a situation like that. I was concerned he’d be dragged into something.”

Chauvin said he informed the bishop’s office at the London diocese and Duarte promptly returned to Canada. The investigation of the orphanage was disrupted when Haiti experienced a coup and all government institutions collapsed.

In a statement Thursday, the diocese of London said Duarte’s arrest is devastating to the Catholic community locally as well as in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Diocese spokesman Mark Adkinson said Duarte, who was born in Portugal but moved to Canada at a young age, was ordained in 1996.

He was associate pastor at St. Michael Church in Leamington from 1996 to 1999, priest-chaplain at Cardinal Carter high school in Leamington from 1997 to 1999 and associate pastor at St. Gregory Church in St. Clair Beach, in 1999 and 2000. He was pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Windsor and pastor-priest at Catholic Central high school from 2000 to 2003.

Adkinson said that Duarte told the diocese in 2003 that he was going to leave the priesthood and Canada. “The diocese has had minimal contact with him since.”

Adkinson said the fact Duarte seemed to move around a lot in the early days of his priesthood was not necessarily an indication there were problems with his conduct.

“It’s not out of the ordinary for a newly ordained priest to have two or three assignments in the first years.”

Adkinson said the church likes to give recent graduates a broad range of experiences in various parishes.

Marcie Spratt of Hearts Together for Haiti, the Windsor-based aid organization Duarte founded, said Thursday the allegations have devastated the charity.

Spratt said the investigation into Duarte’s conduct was begun at the behest of the charity immediately after complaints against the priest surfaced in 2006.

Since then, the organization has been forced to stop operations in the villages where it had been running three schools, two health clinics and sponsorship programs for hundreds of impoverished families, she said.

“The damage has been far-reaching. This has weakened us very much. We’ve spent 21⁄2 years putting out fires instead of helping the dying, the sick and the children who need an education. We’ve been wasting time on this.”

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