In Mississippi Delta, Catholic clergy abuse cases settle on the cheap
Michael Rezendes Associated Press | 9/6/2019, 6 a.m.
A famed Catholic religious order settled sex abuse cases in recent months by secretly paying two African-American Mississippi men $15,000 each and requiring them to keep silent about their claims, the Associated Press has found.
The cash payments are far less than what other Catholic sex abuse survivors have typically received since the church’s abuse scandal erupted in the United States in 2002.
An official with the Franciscan Friars order denies the two men’s race or poverty had anything to do with the size of the settlements.
In one case, the Rev. James G. Gannon, leader of a group of Wisconsin-based Franciscan Friars, settled an abuse claim made by La Jarvis D. Love against another friar for $15,000, during a meeting at an IHOP restaurant where Rev. Gannon met with Mr. Love, his wife and their three small children.
“He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer,” Mr. Love, 36, told the Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could.”
Mr. Love’s cousin, Joshua K. Love, 36, also settled his abuse claim for $15,000 — something he now regrets.
“They felt they could treat us that way because we’re poor and we’re black,” Joshua Love said of the settlements he and La Jarvis Love received.
Across the United States, settlements have ranged much higher. In 2006, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, which includes Greenwood, settled lawsuits involving 19 victims — 17 of whom were white people — for $5 million, with an average payment of more than $250,000 per victim.
In 2018, the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese agreed to pay an average of nearly $500,000 each to clergy abuse survivors.
Joshua Love and La Jarvis Love and a third alleged victim, Joshua’s brother Raphael Love, said they were repeatedly abused by Brother Paul West during the 1990s, when they were elementary school students at St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood, Miss.
On some occasions, Joshua Love said, Brother West asked whether he preferred to be beaten or molested. “He gave me the option to whup me or play with my penis,” he said.
Joshua Love said he was abused also by a second Franciscan at the school, the late Brother Donald Lucas.
Catholic officials have been promising to end the cover-up of sex abuse for nearly two decades. In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, pledging to respond to abuse allegations in an “open and transparent” manner. And earlier this year, Pope Francis issued a new church law requiring Catholic officials worldwide to report sexual abuse — and the cover-up of abuse — to their superiors.
Rev. Gannon, during interviews with the AP, said he believes that Joshua, La Jarvis and Raphael Love were abused and acknowledged that the settlements were less than generous.
“We’ve hurt them tremendously and no amount of money would ever account for what happened to them,” he said.