Click here. Click here. Get confused

This pair of stories has been around for a long time, stashed away in my thick GetReligion guilt file (which needs its own logo or something). I haven’t written about these two stories because I have not been able to figure out what I want to say. Logical enough?

Truth is, this is a very mysterious case. Something strange is going on, but I cannot figure out what — precisely. Meanwhile, I have continued to read some of ongoing coverage that is out there on this case and the mystery has not straightened itself out, yet.

So here is what we are going to do. Please start by reading a bit of the Associated Press report that opens with the following information:

A Colorado man has been sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for sexually abusing children at a school that he founded in Haiti.

Federal Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven imposed the 19 years and 7 months sentence … on Douglas Perlitz, calling him a serial rapist and molester. The 40-year-old resident of Eagle, Colo. apologized before the sentencing to six of his victims who were flown from Haiti to testify at the hearing.

Perlitz admitted … to engaging in illicit sexual conduct with eight children who attended the Project Pierre Toussaint School for street children in Cap-Haitien.

OK, that’s a few of the facts.

Now, click here and read a Connecticut Post report on the same case. That will be the story with the blunt headline, “Attorneys say Perlitz victim of “abusive” relationship with priest.” Here’s the top section of this very different report:

Douglas Perlitz’s descent into sexually abusing homeless Haitian street boys he set out to help is linked to “a dark and abusive relationship,” both “physical and spiritual,” that he developed with a Fairfield University priest shortly after his arrival on campus in 1988, according to a document filed by his lawyers.

Nowhere in any of the documents is the priest identified by name.

The attorneys claim this relationship, along with Perlitz’s struggles with homosexuality, the stress of living up to the iconic standards expected of him, the sudden death of his father and a battle with alcoholism all played a role in what happened with at least eight male teenagers on the campus of Project Pierre Toussaint in Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city. …

Perlitz faces anywhere from eight years to nearly 20 years in prison for traveling from the U.S. to Haiti with the intention of engaging in sex with an underage boy. … Although he pleaded guilty to only one charge, Perlitz admitted engaging “in sexual misconduct with eight minors in their late teens who were part of the Project Pierre Toussaint program,” his lawyers acknowledge in their sentencing memorandum.

Yes, the story states that the court document does not name the priest, but the newspaper put together a quick eight paragraphs of information that appear to point straight at a university chaplain, who was a key player in ministry work in Haiti.

You can read the whole story and find many, many more details. That kind of depth is normal with a local report, in comparison with wire-service reports that go out nationwide. However, that is not my main point. I am trying to figure out why the AP took such a vague, religion-free approach to this story.

Obviously, Perlitz is at the heart of the scandal — no way around that. In the wire report we are dealing with a scandal about the abuse of gender-neutral young children. Period.

In the more developed local coverage, this turns into a story about a troubled missionary who may or may not be a predator who focuses on male, older teen-agers. This is taking place in a context of ministry and, in the background, there are allegations against a powerful, ordained authority figure linked to a major educational institution.

So which is it? Or, if the second story is accurate, what is going on with that AP story?

Meanwhile, CNN.com has an update about the sentence given to Perlitz and the story includes — pretty far down into the report — some of the details about the alleged abuse.

Strange, strange, strange. Don’t you think? I have looked quite a bit at the coverage. Did I miss a more complete AP report, one that digs into the deeper details?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Heather

    Thislink specifically notes the ages of the victims, who weren’t older teenagers at the time of the abuse.
    The Post report seems to be a forum for his legal defense team.