Two of the men who were allegedly abused by a Franciscan friar during the 1990s at the Catholic elementary school they attended in Greenwood say they are gratified by what they describe as a long-overdue reckoning.
And while La Jarvis Love and his cousin, Joshua Love, still bear the emotional scars of the sexual abuse they claim to have suffered at the hands of Paul West, they both are committed to overcoming the decades-old trauma.
“He did not break me,” La Jarvis Love said.
“I’m glad he’s locked up. I wish they would’ve locked him up back then,” added Joshua Love in a separate interview.
West, 60, was extradited from his home in Appleton, Wisconsin, to Greenwood earlier this week to face charges of sex abuse.
The charges stem from his time as a teacher and principal at St. Francis of Assisi School.
The Catholic Diocese of Jackson publicly disclosed in 2019 that allegations of sexual abuse lodged against West and another friar, Brother Donald Lucas, were credible. Lucas died of an apparent suicide in 1999, and West, who relocated from Greenwood to Wisconsin the year before, left the Franciscan order in 2002.
A subsequent investigation by the AP into a disputed settlement that church leaders reached with the Loves last year prompted authorities in Mississippi and Wisconsin to look into the case.
A Leflore County grand jury in August indicted West on two counts of sexual battery and two counts of gratification of lust. In Wisconsin he also was charged with second degree sexual assault of a child, according to the AP.
As of Thursday, West did not have an attorney and he remained behind bars at the Leflore County Jail, awaiting an arraignment scheduled for next Wednesday. At the arraignment, West will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty before a Leflore County Circuit Court judge, the initial step in what could be a protracted criminal justice process.
According to the Leflore County indictments, which only identify the Loves by their initials, West had sexual relations with both of the former St. Francis students and fondled them between 1994 and 1996.
The Loves, both now 37, have said the abuse took place on school grounds as well as on school trips to New York and Wisconsin.
“Now that he did what he did, I did s*** that I’m not proud of,” said La Jarvis Love, who now lives in Senatobia with his wife and four children.
“I could’ve been violent. I could’ve been locked up because of what he did.”
Joshua Love, who lives in Greenwood, recounted an earlier story he had told about West threatening his life, when Love was 12 years old, if the child told anyone about the abuse.
During a trip to New York, while West was ostensibly attempting to teach Love how to do the backstroke, “he put my head under the water and told me if anything got out about (the abuse) that something was going to happen to me.”
Love said that he enjoyed school and had dreams of becoming a football star. He emulated Jerry Rice, an NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver who played his college ball at Mississippi Valley State University.
After Love started being molested, those ambitions faded.
“I told (West) my dreams as a kid. I wanted to be Jerry Rice. He broke me down,” Love said. “It’s like he came in just to destroy my dreams.”
He was later expelled from St. Francis, at which point West allegedly began targeting Love’s younger brother, Raphael.
“I don’t know why he preyed on my family like that,” Joshua Love said.
Neither Joshua Love nor La Jarvis Love reported the abuse until 2019. However, Raphael Love reportedly told church authorities about the alleged abuse while it was taking place in 1998.
Raphael Love is serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed as a juvenile.
La Jarvis Love said it’s important for others who have suffered similar sexual assaults from the clergy to come forward. He is glad the story of what he and his cousins endured finally became public.
“My voice needs to be heard. Joshua’s voice needs to be heard. Raphael’s voice needs to be heard,” he said.
La Jarvis and Joshua Love are hoping a court will invalidate the $15,000 settlement each received in early 2019 from the Wisconsin-based religious order to which West and Lucas belonged.
They have claimed in a lawsuit filed in New York that the Franciscan official who negotiated the settlement, the Rev. James G. Gannon, took advantage of their race and their poverty. The Loves are Black, and Gannon, like West, is white.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, has also asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the settlement.
Gannon did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment. He has previously denied the allegation that race or poverty had any bearing on the settlement he negotiated on behalf of the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province.
The Loves struggle financially to get by.
Joshua Love, who has a 12-year-old son, works various jobs, such as cutting hair, mowing lawns and painting houses. La Jarvis Love runs a landscaping business that has been hampered in recent months by the coronavirus pandemic.
La Jarvis Love said he’s hopeful that the prosecution of West and the challenge to the settlement will improve his situation.
“Once I get my lawsuit money, I’m going to change Greenwood to the best of my ability,” La Jarvis Love said. “Me and Josh are still alive and well, and we’re going to make it. Once we get our retribution, we’re going to continue to make it.”
Joshua Love said that he’d like to go back to school to study a trade or become a counselor in order to provide a positive influence for children in the community. In front of his modest South Greenwood home, he has built a playhouse for the neighborhood children to enjoy.
“I just try to be a better figure than I had,” he said.
La Jarvis Love, however, is apprehensive that the legal system might not bring him a measure of emotional and financial restitution.
“I’m still scared that ain’t nothing going to happen,” he said.
• Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or firstname.lastname@example.org.