"A Smile of a Child" Turned Upside-Down
Carol J. Williams / Los Angeles Times
Children of the Eglise de Dieu Saint Cite parochial school
run by Archbishop Joel Jeune have moved into
Accusations fly between a Haitian archbishop and televangelist Jan Crouch.
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 16, 2008
CARREFOUR, HAITI -- A multimillion-dollar building project involving a Haitian pastor and the Trinity Broadcasting Network has collapsed in recriminations, leaving behind a half-built hospital with a giant cross-shaped hole in one wall.
With $2.5 million already spent, work stopped almost two years ago on the first children's hospital in this slum of half a million people, when the partnership between Archbishop Joel Jeune of Haiti's Charismatic Church and Jan Crouch, the co-founder of the Costa Mesa-based TBN, turned bitter.
Jeune claims that [Jan] Crouch erupted in anger when he told her that some Haitian boys who had been hired to guard the construction site reported that a TBN missionary had made homosexual advances.
TBN executives counter that the falling-out occurred when they confronted Jeune with their suspicions that he had siphoned off some of the Christian broadcaster's donations.
TBN lawyer John Casoria, who is also Crouch's nephew, denounced Jeune's report of sexual misconduct as "absolutely false." Jeune said TBN's claims of misuse of funds were baseless.
Now, the government of President Rene Preval has gotten involved, trying to see whether reconciliation can be fostered to resume construction.
Judging by the Haitian government's latest effort at mediation, a miracle might be needed.
Jeune showed up at the Haitian Foreign Affairs Ministry in late January with several fiery fellow preachers in tow. Casoria, flanked by his own bevy of brethren from the religious broadcasting empire, sat stonily in the reception room as Jeune and his entourage entered.
"I want to show my love for Jan Crouch and for my brother!" boomed Jeune, throwing an arm around Casoria and beaming into a camera wielded by TBN executive Dan York.
"You love Jan so much you rip her off? You steal money from her?" retorted Casoria, throwing off Jeune's embrace.
Incensed preachers shot off the sofas to protest the slight. They wagged fingers in the faces of TBN officials and shouted Creole curses on the visitors who had insulted their religious leader under a Haitian roof.
Government secretaries in high heels and snug skirt suits raised manicured hands in appeals for calm and Christian forgiveness.
The threat of fisticuffs subsided, until Casoria brandished a letter in which Jeune had written that he would "fight" TBN rather than turn over a single brick of his mission, accusing the archbishop of intimating violence. Jeune snatched the letter and tore it up, throwing the paper shreds in the lawyer's face.
Lee Variety, a Miami-based minister taking Jeune's side in the what-now negotiations, dragged the pastor out to a ministry balcony for a talking-to. A chastened Jeune returned and called off his fuming fellow ministers. Ties were straightened, necks stretched. Tousled hair was smoothed.
But if looks could kill, both delegations would have been dead before they were called into the conference room.
A united beginning
This cautionary tale along that road paved with good intentions began when Crouch and Jeune bonded in Christian unity during a visit more than 20 years ago by the televangelist, known for her pink wigs and heavy makeup. Crouch had "had a vision" about helping Haitian children after a baby died in her arms during her first visit to this country a few years earlier, said Casoria, the point man on the Haiti standoff.
"When I saw utterly poor children -- diseased, crippled, naked and, most of all, pathetically hungry boys and girls -- playing in gutters in the filthiest water I had ever seen, it was beyond comprehension," Crouch, who declined to comment for this report, said in an August 2005 news release. "My heart broke into a million pieces. I just knew immediately that something had to be done."
Jeune, head of the Charismatic Church, which has more than 250 parishes, 60 schools, a few orphanages and scattered shelters and clinics across this poorest country in the Americas, was already at work trying to interest foreign charities in bankrolling Carrefour's first children's hospital when Crouch proposed backing the venture.
Crouch; her husband, Paul; and son Paul Jr. oversee TBN, the world's largest religious broadcaster, beaming its programming to every country in the world. The far-flung television empire took in $188 million in 2004, the latest year for which public tax documents were available. About 70% of TBN donations are for $50 or less, according to the network.
Donations rush in
Building plans were drafted in the late 1990s for the hospital, which was advertised as a 100-bed facility with an emergency room and surgical unit. Start-up funds began flowing to Jeune early this decade and swelled in 2003 and 2004 as TBN beseeched faithful viewers of its "Praise the Lord" program to give to the destitute children of Haiti.
Appeals by Jeune and images of the students and orphans in his care were aired to bolster the fundraising. About $2.5 million was sent for the hospital over five years, both sides say.
TBN sent infusions of $100,000 every few months and then ceased sending money after the falling-out in spring 2006.
Crouch appealed to the Haitian government last year for title to the unfinished building on land in Jeune's name. Her appeal instigated a stop-work order in November, preventing Jeune from resuming construction with the aid of other benefactors.
"It's unfortunate that the Haitian government must step in to find a solution between two Christians," lamented Christian Sanen, a senior official in the Charismatic Church.
"It's messy," agreed Pierre Leger, a wealthy businessman seeking to salvage the project.
A website list of "expenitures" by the Smile of a Child group, a TBN nonprofit subsidiary founded by Crouch, shows more than $420,000 in spending to other charities and subcontractors in Haiti since payments to Jeune ceased, most of it listed as further hospital construction. The construction site has been idle since the rift in 2006.
Casoria said the funds went for construction materials and for engineering services that couldn't be completed because Jeune blocked the TBN emissaries from the disputed site.
Leger and officials from the ministries for health, social affairs, planning, religion and foreign affairs have joined Jeune and a yet-to-be-named TBN figure in a committee the government has charged with putting together a plan for completing the hospital and getting its creators working together again so they can finance and run it.
Neither Jeune nor Casoria committed to the effort.
"They are not going to be our partners if we are going to give another penny," Casoria said of Jeune, the Grace International nonprofit organization, founded by the archbishop, and Infinite Construction Group, the Miami-based building company run by the oldest of Jeune's four sons, Jonny.
In a letter to Jeune in June 2006, Casoria alleged that $400,000 of hospital funds relayed by TBN hadn't been properly accounted for by Grace International or Infinite Construction. Jeune's financial report reviewed by a mutually acceptable third party detailed $2.6 million in spending, about $100,000 more than TBN had sent, but the auditor noted lapses in documentation.
Waiting for a hospital
As the two sides bicker, schoolchildren squat inside the cinder-block shell of the hospital, reading by the sun beaming through the cross-shaped hole, still waiting for its stained glass.
The blue-gingham-clad students reciting in singsong voices have migrated to the unfinished building from the overcrowded Eglise de Dieu Saint Cite parochial school and orphanage next door.
Jeune and his wife, Doris, whom the 2,200 students, 70 orphans and 300 staff members call "Mami," live in an upstairs room of the orphanage that is filled with office equipment, filing cabinets and older orphans who do clerical tasks for the church and its relief works.
He bristles at the lifestyle of the Crouches, who make use of the network's luxury homes, ranches and compounds.
Jeune, who claims to have become aware of the Crouches' opulent lifestyle only after their falling-out, describes their personal use of viewers' donations as "sinful."
"You have to put a roof over your head, but you shouldn't be living better than the people you are trying to help," he said, recalling what he regards as excessive security and escorted motorcades that brought Crouch on her handful of visits to his mission. "It was like the queen was coming."
He vows to complete the hospital, with or without TBN, and defends his use of it as a school annex as a practical interim solution.
"We owe it to the people who sent money to make their dreams for us come true," Jeune said. "They didn't send that money for TBN; they sent it for the people of Haiti."