Editor, Commonwealth:

As an advocate and a survivor in Mississippi, I think I am qualified to speak to the history of the Diocese of Jackson and the Catholic Church and their handling of sexual abuse claims.

In a previous letter to the editor (“Diocese did not cover up sexual abuse,” Sept. 7), Frank Vollor writes with much conviction as to what took place in 1998 when Raphael Love reported that Brother Paul West had molested him. Mr. Vollor writes of personally making a report to the Greenwood Police Department. Yet it was reported by  The Associated Press that Police Chief Ray Moore said he could not find any record of a department investigation in 1998. Chief Moore also stated that his department could not find the original report that Mr. Vollor claims he made. It also must be pointed out that the copy of the police report that is on the Jackson Diocese website has no case number assigned to it.

In my opinion, the Loves have been mistreated and marginalized by Fr. James G. Gannon, the Franciscan prelate, and were not treated properly by the diocesan victims assistance coordinator, Valerie McClellan. In 2002, the diocese agreed to the terms of the Dallas Charter, which states that no “secret settlements” are to be used when dealing with survivors of clergy abuse. Fr. Gannon and Valerie McClellan violated that clause. The paltry settlement that the Loves received is outrageous as well.

Mr. Vollor points out that the diocese hired an independent psychologist in 1998 to conduct workshops at the school to teach the children about boundaries. He goes on to say that “Joshua Love should have been at these workshops.” I would like to point out to Mr. Vollor that in 1998, Joshua had been long gone from St. Francis School. Joshua had been expelled from school by his principal and alleged molester, Brother Paul West, for “acting out.” I wonder why Joshua would have been acting out? Also it could be reasonable to believe that boundary discussions in 1998 would be a couple of years late for Joshua.

I also disagree with Mr. Vollor’s last statement that the Catholic Church has been “aggressive and pursued the allegations compassionately.” It has been reported by multiple news outlets that Brother Paul West moved back to Wisconsin and in 1999 started teaching fifth grade at a Catholic school in Little Chute, Wisconsin. It has also been reported that West was subjected to a psychological examination in St. Louis in 1998 before going back to Wisconsin to teach. What did the evaluation state about West? He taught school in Little Chute from 1999 until 2010. If the Catholic Church was “compassionate” and “aggressive,” shouldn’t the people in Little Chute have been told about Paul West and his history in Greenwood? St. John Catholic School in Little Chute says that West passed several background checks. If the Catholic Church was “compassionate” and “aggressive,” the Jackson Diocese should have followed up with every subsequent assignment for West in order to prevent other children from being exposed to him.

There are also letters posted on the diocesan website written by the Jackson diocesan attorney, Steve Carmody, to the district attorney of Leflore County sent in March 2019 after La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love reported that they, too, had been molested. Mr. Carmody makes a grave error and reports to the DA that Paul West left the Franciscan order and is recently deceased. On the contrary, Paul West is alive and living in Appleton, Wisconsin, as re-ported by the AP. Paul West is also being investigated in Wisconsin for crimes committed against the Loves when they were children. Based on Mr. Carmody’s letter, I could see why the DA in Leflore County would not be pursuing criminal charges against a dead man.

If the church is truly being “compassionate” and “aggressive,” it can start by correcting its error immediately and helping the DA investigate the crimes committed by the still-living Paul West and his enablers.

Mark Belenchia
Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests
Jackson

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