Jackson diocese: we did not influence victim’s decision to accept smaller settlement

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The Diocese of Jackson in Mississippi said it did not pressure a victim of clerical sexual abuse to accept settlement offers after he was abused by a Franciscan brother in the late 1990s. Earlier this year, that victim and his cousin were paid $15,000 each by a Wisconsin-based Franciscan province - a lower amount than typical settlements- to settle their abuse claims.  

The Associated Press reported Aug. 27 that La Jarvis Love and his cousins, brothers Joshua and Raphael Love, alleged that they had been repeatedly abused during the 1990s by Brother Paul West, OFM, when they were elementary school students at St. Francis of Assisi School, in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Earlier this year, Father James Gannon, Provincial Minister for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province of the Franciscan Friars, met with La Jarvis, his wife, and his three small children at an IHOP restaurant in northern Mississippi outside of Memphis. He brought along a four-page agreement that the Franciscans would pay him $15,000, which included a nondisclosure requirement, which Love signed and dated Jan. 11, 2019.

A statement from the diocese said that the Victim Assistance Coordinator, Valerie McClellan, was present at a different meeting during which Gannon met with Joshua Love, La Jarvis' cousin, who also was abused. Joshua ultimately signed a $15,000 agreement as well.

Joshua says he was also abused by the late Brother Donald Lucas at the school. Lucas died in 1999 in an apparent suicide.

The diocese said in a statement that McClellan was there as "an emotional support person for Mr. Love."

"At this meeting, Ms. McClellan reiterated Fr. Gannon's urging for Mr. Love to have a lawyer review the agreement for him," the diocese said.

"At no point during the meeting did she review or read the proposed settlement agreement or encourage Mr. Love to sign the agreement. Her sole purpose at the meeting was to act as emotional support for Mr. Love as his therapist."

Raphael Love did not sign a settlement agreement.

Notably, the document that the two victims signed included a nondisclosure agreement. The 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, also known as the Dallas Charter, forbids confidential settlement agreements in the case of sexual abuse of minors by clergy unless the victim specifically requests it. The Dallas Charter applies to dioceses, but does not apply to religious orders, like the Franciscans.

The diocesan statement said that when the first victim- Raphael- reported allegations of abuse against West in 1998, the diocese relayed the allegation to the Greenwood Police Department and the Department of Human Services. In addition to reporting it to legal authorities, the Diocesan Fitness Review Committee investigated.

"It is diocesan policy to fully cooperate in all criminal investigation after a police report is filed. However, the Diocese does not continue its investigation into the specific incident charged because it does not want to interfere in an ongoing criminal investigation by civil authorities," the statement continued. 

The AP noted that in 2006, the Diocese of Jackson settled abuse lawsuits involving 19 victims for $5.1 million, or an average of $250,000 per victim; $235,000 more than La Jarvis and Joshua settled for.

The attorney who represented the 2006 victims said he is preparing to file a lawsuit on behalf of La Jarvis and Joshua, and plans to argue that the settlements they signed are not legally binding.

Gannon told the AP that he believes that the three men were abused and said that their race- all three are black- and the fact that all three are poor did not factor into the size of the settlement. He also said the Franciscans have no intention of enforcing the nondisclosure agreement.

West was removed from ministry by the Franciscan Order and the Diocese after the 1998 complaint, the statement said, and never returned to Greenwood or Mississippi.

The Franciscan Province also released a statement on the matter, which they updated Aug. 29.

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"We have provided assistance to two of the men that is not discussed in the article," the statement says, but does not elaborate on what form the assistance has taken.

"While the actions of the two former friars took place over two decades ago, they are still very painful in the lives of these men who suffered so much."

The diocese said that during the course of the 1998 investigation, the Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools authorized the St. Francis School administration to have a trained psychologist conduct "six age-appropriate boundary and relationship educational sessions with the children," and counselors met with the children in order to determine if others had been abused.

"The school administration sent out questionnaires to former students' parents to determine why they had left the school," the diocese continued.

"The administration also interviewed other potential victims and sought to provide counseling for not only Love but any that may have been abused."

The Franciscans' statement noted that all of their friars, sisters, faculty and volunteers participate in the VIRTUS training program to help them recognize the "grooming process that perpetrators use to victimize children, some of which are mentioned in the article. We are also trained on how to respond appropriately to what we observe."

"We pray for healing for the survivors of this abuse and for all victims of abuse and for their families and friends," the Friars concluded.

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CNA was unable to reach Father Gannon for additional comment.

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