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Special Event

Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin Now Believes Elian Should Remain with Miami Relatives

Aired January 28, 2000 - 2:57 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now live to the Justice Department. Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, who has been working with the grandmothers of Elian Gonzalez and who helped form the reunion the grandmothers had with Elian, has just met with Attorney General Janet Reno about the events of this week, and she is now addressing reporters.

SISTER JEANNE O'LAUGHLIN, PRESIDENT, BARRY UNIVERSITY: The child has been here for two months and has bonded deeply with the family, who at this point would cause him to accept another death if he had to leave. It is my hope, it is my prayer that there are other persons wiser than I that can find resolution to what somehow has turned into a political arena, something that has made it possible to lose sight of a little boy who lost a mother.

I travel here not concerned, of course, only for one boy, but it speaks to any other children that someday reach our shores in like manner.

So am I encouraged by my visit? Yes. I am encouraged because with the experience that I have had with this woman of integrity, I know she will continue to search for ways. Am I discouraged? Yes, because it will be very difficult for those who play the political game to leave a child, the time, the place to mourn, to grow and to prosper in stable freedom and an environment that will enrich his life, and as a result, this country, this world, and also his country of Cuba.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... Janet Reno is so very diametrically opposed on this issue. You believe the boy should stay, and she believes the boy should go back to Cuba.

O'LAUGHLIN: I would say that's putting it in one or two sentences.

QUESTION: Is there any hope that she will change her mind?

O'LAUGHLIN: Yes, I -- well, no, I -- do you think she will change her mind? She would change her mind, I believe, if she could find legal reasons to change her mind and have adequate evidence that that would be necessary. QUESTION: This is for the sister. You seem to reflect that you have seen the devil. Is it that dire? Is it that...

O'LAUGHLIN: I have had the experience of many children in that -- my home, children that very often were the product of not having the right papers, being paroled to me in other ways, most of them with single mothers, and every child that has left that home, I have are felt rejoicing. I felt rejoicing because the child and the mother entered freedom, and I don't feel that way right now about this child's future.

QUESTION: Did you think maybe the boy is afraid, he's got some fear to go back to Cuba?

O'LAUGHLIN: Yes. He's only 6 years old, and the question is, of course, is it instilled, or is it just natural fright or is it some of the rumors that perhaps some of our community instill in him? For instance, to frighten a child to come to my home, where there would be trapped doors or whatever, so ridiculous, instead of providing loving environment, to instill fear. And I'm sure the same thing perhaps happened to the parents -- the grandmothers.

QUESTION: How do you leave your meeting with Janet Reno?

O'LAUGHLIN: I left my meeting with Janet Reno with a gigantic hug and a promise that we will both keep pursuing the truth as we see.

QUESTION: But in difference directions.

O'LAUGHLIN: One never knows what will happen. I have enough faith in our way of life that surprises will happen.

QUESTION: Sister, you were chosen for your neutrality to host this meeting. Do you think your stance on this issue is...

O'LAUGHLIN: I am no longer neutral.

QUESTION: Do you think it's appropriate for to you speak out like this, having so little contact with the family?

O'LAUGHLIN: I had more contact with the family that day than most people ever had, and I -- and the grandmothers. But I also have been with people for years, and my intuitions have been pretty good throughout my lifetime. There's no need for me at this point to say that I am neutral, because I have to say the event when it took place, I had that feeling. I only concentrated on the future of the boy in the sense of that moment, the ability to have grandmothers hug the child and have the family feel free and safe that that would not change the child's relationship or designation with the INS. That happened. As a result of being immersed in that experience that changed me really, up to that point, I always felt that the law was clear, that he belonged with his father, and then as I experienced the family and the visitation, I felt something very sad in my home. I felt that the politics had stayed outside, that the fears was gigantic. QUESTION: Do you think the fear could have been from the first helicopter ride these women had, or the trauma this child has been through. Is this kind of an unnatural situation for everyone to be in?

O'LAUGHLIN: True, but the fear I was feeling was not the fear of plane rides or helicopters; it had to do with way of life.

QUESTION: Sister, if you are not neutral anymore, do you think you might be willing to work with the people that is trying to grant him citizenship and remain -- allow the child to remain in the U.S.?

O'LAUGHLIN: I am going to work with Senator Connie Mack. Presently, I would support his bill, even though I'm not too sure that it would have a chance of being passed. But it's an effort, and if other options were to come up that would be legal and possible, I would try to work with that.

QUESTION: Sister, does the Catholic Church have any comment on your work in this case?

O'LAUGHLIN: I do feel -- I am sure that the grandmothers love the child. I'm sure of that. I'm sure that the father -- you know, I don't know the father, but from I've heard, I'm sure, but it has been the mystery of bonding. Had he gone back to Cuba the first week or the second week, the position I would feel would be different, but the bonding that has been taking place, i think Sister Peggy Albert could talk to you about that better than I.

Diane, I missed you.

QUESTION: But, sister, a bonding of two weeks is...

O'LAUGHLIN: I couldn't hear you.

QUESTION: You catholic church, do they have any comments about your action?

O'LAUGHLIN:. The Catholic Church, did they have any comment about your actions. No, I'm not here as a Catholic Church -- I'm the president of a university in a troubled community, and institutions cannot separate themselves from the pains of their community, and that has been part of our mission as Barry University for these 60 years that we've been there . And so we cannot possibly sit by and observe community trauma and pain without participating.

QUESTION: Sister, do you think there's a lot of pressure on the boy, instead of trying to convince him in some other way to go back to Cuba?

O'LAUGHLIN: I'm not privy to any of that. I wouldn't feel qualified, but Sister Peggy Albert is a Phd social worker who got to observe the child.

QUESTION: One more questions. Do you envision the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) solution, where this boy grows up here and maybe someday later, when he's an adult, his parents come here. O'LAUGHLIN: In a perfect world, I would hope that two countries could work out a way where a child could be part of both, and that visitations and models of visiting would take place. The child will not be 6 forever.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have time for one more questions.

QUESTION: You spoke about the bond that Elian is developing with the family he's been with for two months. Now the bond between a father and a son, how does that weigh? How do you weigh one against the another, to say that now he's developing a bond? What about (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

SISTER PEGGY ALBERT: One bond doesn't deny the other. But when you think of the trauma this child has been through in the last two months -- lost at sea, his mother dying, and then he reconnects with a family in Miami who's related to him, and all through that whole trauma now, he's with this family. It doesn't deny the bond he has with his father.

But it's my belief as a therapist that if he were separated now from this family and surrogate mother now, who he sort of clung to for the last two few months, going through this grieving process, it's another traumatic loss for him. And how much loss can a 7-year-old endure?

QUESTION: Should the rule be that if somebody has custody of a child, takes it from a parent illegally for a couple of months, they should have a right to keep that child?

ALBERT: Well, I think the issues are a little bit different here, and I don't think we can say this applies to this case, and it doesn't apply to this case. How many children's mother die at sea when they're there and then have a family to greet them? In no way has anybody ever said, the father is a bad person, the grandmother's a bad persons, that there aren't family bonds there. We wish the family could get together and resolve all these kinds of things, but that's not where that's at right now. And so what's best for the child is what's at issue right now. And Sister Jeanne and myself feel that right now, it's best for the child to be where he's at.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much. Thank you.

ALLEN: Sisters Peggy Albert and Jeanne O'Laughlin taking tough questions from reporters about their new stance. They believe Elian Gonzalez should remain in the United States. The sisters just met with Attorney General Janet Reno to share their thoughts with Miss Reno. Miss O'Laughlin had hosted that reunion between Elian and his grandmothers this week. She wanted to tell Miss Reno her thoughts following that reunion.

Again, the sisters saying they believe that Elian has now bonded with his Miami relatives, and he should have no further disruption in his life, like sending him back to Cuba. That's their thoughts.

We'll continue to follow developments from the Elian Gonzalez story.

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