A former member of a Catholic religious order has been accused of sexual abuse of a minor while serving in ministry at Greenwood’s St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church about two decades ago.

Allegations against former Franciscan Brother Paul West, who during his time in Greenwood from 1993 to 1998 served as principal of St. Francis School,  have been considered by the Diocese of Jackson’s Fitness Review Board and found to be credible. An announcement ran in the bulletin this past weekend at St. Francis and its sister Greenwood parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary, and was read at worship services.

Information gathered by the diocese will now be turned over to law enforcement, according to Maureen Smith, director of communications for the Jackson Diocese.

The Rev. Joachim Studwell, who has been serving as pastor of St. Francis for a little under a year, said a directive was issued by the diocese to announce the allegations made within the last calendar year.

“When any allegation of this nature is made, we are very sad, to say the least,” Studwell said.

“We want anybody who has had this kind of experience to come forward. If there is anybody else, we want them and others to know that we want them to come forward, to let us know.”

The allegations against West come just as the  Franciscans celebrate the 70th anniversary of their arrival in Greenwood in 1948.

The anniversary was marked with an appreciation fellowship following the 9 a.m. Mass this past Sunday at Immaculate Heart. St. Francis is planning a similar event this coming Sunday following the 11 a.m. Mass.

Smith said the diocesan review board meets fairly often. She said that although she does not know the exact date the allegations against West were made, she believes it must have been fairly recently, even though the alleged activity is said to have taken place some 20 years ago.

“I wish I could explain why some people come forward and some people wait,” Smith said.

Smith said this was the first and only complaint filed in the Jackson Diocese against West and she does not know whether charges were made in any other dioceses.

West left the Franciscans “several years ago,” according to the announcement in the church bulletin. Studwell said he believed it was in the early 2000s.

“I had known of him. He was in our community,” Studwell said. “I remember that he left. I don’t know where he is now.”

Smith said it is the diocese’s policy to notify the local district attorney when allegations are made and have been reviewed.

“Once we do that, it’s kind of in their hands,” she said. “Whenever  people come forward, (diocese officials) close up all the files and hand them over to the DA, especially if it was a sexual abuse allegation.”

Fourth Circuit Court District Attorney W. Dewayne Richardson and Assistant District Attorney Tim Jones, who serves in Leflore County, said on Monday that they had not yet had the case turned over to them.

Richardson said that once his office received such a case, he would turn it over to the sheriff’s office to gather evidence in the county where the crime allegedly occurred.

Formal charges have not been filed in the case.

Contact Kathryn Eastburn at 581-7235 or keastburn@gwcommonwealth.com.

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