Congressman Bennie Thompson Asks Doj to Investigate Catholic Sex Abuse Settlement
By Sarah Fowler
February 24, 2020
Congressman Bennie Thompson has asked the Department of Justice to investigate settlements given to two victims of clergy abuse, saying in a letter that Catholic officials "exploited" the young men.
Last August, cousins La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love told The Associated Press 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.
|La Jarvis D. Love (left) and Joshua K. Love (Photo: Wong Maye-E, AP)|
West's name is on the list of clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse released by the Jackson Diocese last March.
In a letter dated Feb. 20, Thompson outlined the abuse inflicted on La Jarvis, Joshua and Raphael Love by West and the $15,000 settlement La Jarvis and Joshua Love each received from the Catholic Church.
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 — for $5 million, with an average payment of more than $250,000 per victim.
The settlement, Thompson wrote, was "far less than what many other sex abuse victims have received through legal settlements with the Catholic church."
The Rev. James G. Gannon, leader of a group of Wisconsin-based Franciscan Friars, settled the abuse claim made by La Jarvis Love during a meeting at an IHOP restaurant with his wife and three children. Love was offered $15,000.
|The Rev. James G. Gannon, leader of a group of Wisconsin-based Franciscan Friars, settled the abuse claim made by La Jarvis Love during a meeting at an IHOP restaurant with his wife and three children. Love was offered $15,000. |
"He said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer call his lawyer," La Jarvis Love, 36, told The Associated Press. "Well, we don't have lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we could."
Joshua Love 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 told the AP of the settlements he and La Jarvis received.
The cousins have since filed suit against the Jackson Diocese.
In his letter, Thompson said neither cousin was represented by counsel nor did they understand the terms of the agreements.
"This is a clear case of an organization taking advantage of the disadvantaged," Thompson wrote.
"In comparison to other cases that were settled, two black men from one of the poorest areas in the state of Mississippi were exploited by the Catholic officials to cover up years of abuse that have left both men tainted for the rest of their lives...there is a stark difference in the treatment of the financial settlements of survivors of abuse by Catholic officials in Mississippi because of their race and economic disparities."
Mark Belenchia, of the Mississippi chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said, "thanks to our Congressman Bennie Thompson, these men might receive the justice they deserve."
"The systemic use of racism permeates this sad story. If these men were children of a white Catholic family from the Delta, this investigation would have been well on its way."