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 ...
Joshua K. Love, cousin of La Jarvis D. Love, says he regrets accepting a $15,000 settlement for the sexual abuse he suffered as a child at St. Francis of Assisi School.

Asked if the Loves’ racial or economic backgrounds had anything to do with the size of the settlements they were offered, Rev. Gannon said, “Absolutely not.”

Rev. Gannon also said the Franciscans have no intention of enforcing the non-disclosure agreements in the two settlements.

But the secret deals the Franciscans reached with La Jarvis and Joshua Love show that, in some cases, the American church continues efforts to limit financial fallout and keep sexual abuse under wraps — as it did in the years before 2002 when settlements with victims were routinely arranged in secret for small sums of money.

Mark Belenchia, a Catholic sex abuse survivor and Mississippi leader of SNAP — the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — said the agreements raise questions about the viability of the American church’s child protection charter and underscore the need for law enforcement investigations.

“The church is only focused on its image and management of the ongoing cover-up,” Mr. Belenchia said. “That is why it’s critical for law enforcement to investigate fully without interference from the church.”

Brother West, now 59, declined to answer questions. Brother Lucas died in 1999 in an apparent suicide. But the Jackson diocese has found the allegations against them credible and recently notified the local district attorney in Greenwood.

Unlike Joshua and La Jarvis Love, who reported their alleged abuse last year, Raphael Love told church authorities about Brother West while his alleged abuse was taking place in 1998 when he was 9 years old.

Stephen J. Carmody, an attorney for the Diocese of Jackson, said church officials notified police and a social services agency in 1998.

Raphael Love, now 30, currently is serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed when he was 16. He said he rejected Rev. Gannon’s offer to settle his abuse claim for $15,000, saying he needed more to hire an attorney to appeal his criminal conviction.

Rev. Gannon said Brother West was recalled from Greenwood in 1998 and that the Franciscans lost touch with him after he left the Franciscan order.

But the AP discovered that Brother West began teaching fifth grade at a Catholic school near his home in Appleton, Wis., in 2000, and remained on the job until at least 2010.

John F. Hawkins, the Jackson civil attorney who represented victims in the 2006 settlement, said he’s preparing to file a lawsuit on behalf of La Jarvis and Joshua Love, in which he will argue that the settlements they signed are not legally binding, in part due to the “extreme emotional and financial duress” they were under at the time.