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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

AOL News on Mormon Meetinghouse in Haiti: This Story Doesn't Add Up

AOL News posted the story, "No Sanctuary at This Church in Haitian Storm." Essentially the story says that no one except local members (and maybe their parents) could take shelter in the L.D.S. Meetinghouse in Leogane, Haiti when Hurricane Tomas came through. The author is obviously incredulous:
The LDS church is one of the biggest and most modern buildings in Leogane, with the capacity to safely hold and protect 200. The church's hurricane policy? Only church members can seek shelter there.
The article says only about 36 people were being sheltered.
They didn't receive food or water, sleeping mats or mattresses. On Friday afternoon, a dozen women sat on the ground and in chairs outside, underneath the shadow of the church's enormous satellite dish, while church staff more or less ignored them.
The article goes on to infer that a distant and inflexible bureaucracy controls the decisionmaking.
"It's not simple," said Matthieu Chrisner, adviser to the bishop, the leader of the local congregation. Letting people take shelter here "is a very complex decision, and a lot of people would have to agree. It's a chain of authority that reaches the headquarters in the Central Caribbean."
. . ."There is a committee. Really, it's a committee inside of some other committees. It goes through the bishop, then a committee process ... then, there's no way to know if it's longer or shorter. I can't tell you how long it would take for an answer."
This is in direct contrast to local empowerment of local leaders during emergencies. I've read countless stories in regular media that reinforce this.

Things just get more convoluted and unbelievable when the Bishop and others were interviewed. Consider these disparate quotes:
In an interview, Bishop Pierre-Louis Yves told AOL News his church wasn't welcoming any hurricane victims at all. The church volunteered its premises as a point of coordination for the Department of Civil Protection.
The bishop pointed out that the church had been a shelter for earthquake victims. But this time, he came to an agreement with the mayor of Leogane that the church would host a small office for government employees, instead of its homeless neighbors. 
"It's not shelter, it's a Mormon church," a church employee said.
The article's author doesn't shrink from editorializing:
. . . in a hurricane in Haiti, any building capable of withstanding wind and rain is a potential shelter. Most other shelters were either schools or churches, many of which were far more modest than the LDS facility.
If a church is not also a shelter in a storm, what is it?
The article concludes by inferring that the Mormon action is unchristian.

This article does not pass muster on many levels. I have to think there is more to this story than this reporter wrote. Meetinghouses are often official Red Cross shelters in this country and others. I constantly read articles that prove meetinghouses are used as shelters and staging facilities for emergency efforts.

Also, much of our charity and humanitarian aid goes to non-members.

The Church's site states after the earthquake that:
Nine LDS chapels located in and around Port-au-Prince have been opened as shelters to support local communities. Food and other relief supplies brought into Haiti are being used at these shelters to assist with basic needs. Approximately half of the people being helped at or in Church facilities are members of other faiths.
I've also read numerous accounts of the Church sending aid to countries and areas of the world where we have no church presence whatever, like Mauritania. We cannot be accused of not helping non-members.


This whole article is just fishy. If I read any clarifications or retractions. I will post them below.


11/09/10 The Church has published a clarification:


I alerted the Church to the AOL story through their web site feedback form. It sent a response to my email today giving me the link to their clarification which is on their Newsroom Blog:
This weekend, an AOL article reported that Haitians displaced by flooding caused by Hurricane Tomas were not allowed shelter in a Church meetinghouse in Leogane, Haiti. The fact is that other Church buildings in Haiti were used as public shelters, and arrangements had been made for this particular building to be used by a government agency to respond to the disaster. Because of this arrangement, it was unclear to some whether the building could also be used as a public shelter. Of course the Church would want to shelter all those who sought refuge, as it has done countless other times in scores of nations and places. The Church has a well established reputation for caring for the needy. The report of this event obviously describes an isolated aberration.

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