Catholic friar sexually abused students in 1990s, jury finds. Now he’s prison bound

Charlotte Observer [Charlotte NC]

April 15, 2022

By Cassandre Coyer

A former Catholic friar was sentenced to decades in prison after he sexually assaulted multiple students during the 1990s, officials say.

Following a two-day trial, Paul West, 62, from Wisconsin, was convicted of one count of sexual battery and one count of gratification of lust, according to a news release from Mississippi’s Attorney General’s Office.

West was a teacher and principal at the St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood, a city about 100 miles north of Jackson, from July 1993 until October 1998, according to a statement from the Catholic Diocese of Jackson.

Investigators said that West molested multiple children during his years at the school. Decades after the assaults, former students came forward and shared testimonies of “the repeated sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of West,” according to the release.

“Children looked up to this man as a teacher and a priest. They trusted him and he failed them in every way,” Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in the release.

The diocese reported the allegations against West to authorities in 1998 then again in 2018, according to the statement from the diocese. West was removed from the ministry in 1998.

In September 2020, West was extradited from his home state and was put in Mississippi’s Leflore County Jail where he awaited his trial, according to the Associated Press. He pleaded not guilty.

The former students who testified during the trial said the assaults began when they were in fourth grade, AP reported.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Mark Belenchia, volunteer state coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told AP. “This should have happened 20 years ago.”

“The Diocese of Jackson is committed to protecting children. Sexual misconduct by Church personnel violates human dignity and the mission of the Church,” the diocese said. “The Diocese has dedicated substantial time and resources to ensure that children being served by the Church are not at risk of sexual abuse by Church personnel.”

On April 12, West was sentenced to 45 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections without parole. Upon his release, he will be required to register as a sex offender, according to the attorney general.