The Associated Press has uncovered the cases of two men whom the Franciscans of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province paid $15,000 each to keep quiet about abuse claims, despite a requirement that victims must not be bound by nondisclosure agreements in child sexual abuse settlements.
La Jarvis Love and his cousins, brothers Joshua and Raphael Love, say 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, Mississippi, the Associated Press reported Aug. 27.
The men said Brother West abused them both in the school and on summer excursions to Wisconsin.
La Jarvis, 36, came forward with his abuse claim in 2017. He told the Associated Press that Father James Gannon, Provincial Minister for the Wisconsin-based province, met with him, his wife, and his three small children at an IHOP restaurant in northern Mississippi outside of Memphis.
The Franklin, Wisconsin-based Assumption Province has had a program of outreach to the poor of Greenwood since the early 1950s.
Love said Gannon 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.
The AP noted that in 2006, the Diocese of Jackson, in which Greenwood is situated, settled abuse lawsuits involving 19 victims for $5.1 million, or an average of $250,000 per victim.
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.
The 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, also known as the Dallas Charter, forbids the practice of confidential settlement agreements in the case of sexual abuse of minors by clergy unless the victim specifically requests it.
In addition, Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ new guidelines for reporting sexual abuse promulgated in May, states in article 4 that “an obligation to keep silent may not be imposed on any person with regard to the contents of his or her report [of abuse].”
Gannon told the AP that West was recalled from Greenwood in 1998 and that the Franciscans lost touch with him after he left the Franciscan order, but the AP found that West began teaching fifth grade at a Catholic school near his home in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 2000, and remained on the job until at least 2010.
“The information in the article is upsetting, disappointing, and may even bring back painful memories to victims and their families. For that, we sincerely apologize,” Gannon said in an Aug. 27 statement in response to the AP article.
“The Franciscans of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province will continue to maintain safe environments. Protecting children and vulnerable adults is one of our utmost priorities. These strenuous efforts have been validated through our accreditation status by an independent firm that evaluates protection policies and procedures of major organizations.”
Joshua also took a $15,000 settlement, and says he was also abused by the late Brother Donald Lucas at the school. Lucas died in 1999.
Rafael reported his abuse to Church authorities in 1998, and Stephen J. Carmody, an attorney for the Diocese of Jackson, told the AP that the church officials notified police and a social services agency at that time.
Rafael is now serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed when he was 16, and rejected Gannon’s offer of $15,000 to settle the abuse claim, the AP says.
The Diocese of Jackson has investigated the allegations against West and Lucas and found them to be credible. The diocesan website includes both Lucas and West on its list of credibly accused clergy.