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In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

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As
allegations of sexual abuse by clergy have proliferated across the
Catholic Church, millions of dollars in settlement money has been paid
to victims. Some have received as much as $500,000
apiece.

Not La Jarvis D. Love.

At an
IHOP in the Mississippi Delta, a white official from the Franciscan
religious order offered to pay him just $15,000 to keep years of alleged
abuse secret.

It was a tough story to tell because of emotional, legal and logistical complexities

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Joshua K. Love sits in the living room of his home in Greenwood, Miss., June 8, 2019. Love says he was sexually abused by two Franciscan friars at a local Catholic grade school. – AP PHOTO / Maye-E Wong

“He
said if I wanted more, I would have to get a lawyer and have my lawyer
call his lawyer,” Love told The Associated Press. “Well, we don’t have
lawyers. We felt like we had to take what we
could.”

The story, the latest in AP’s investigation into abuse in
the Catholic Church
,revealed deals struck with two black men for
abuse they said happened in grade school that represent far lower
amounts than what other clergy abuse survivors have received. It also
revealed the men had been asked to sign nondisclosure
agreements, which had long been banned by U.S. Catholic leaders.

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The site of St. Francis of Assisi church and school in Greenwood, Miss., June 10, 2019. Three men say they were sexually abused by Franciscan friars when they were students at the school. – AP PHOTO / Maye-E Wong

It
was also important because La Jarvis and two of his cousins,who have
also reported abuse,differed from most victims because they are black,
desperately poor and,until recently,didn’t
have access to an attorney to fight for them.

The
story illustrated that the Catholic Church continues to try to limit
financial fallout and keep sexual abuse under wraps,and it was a
difficult one to report. It involved multiple emotional,
legal and logistical complexities and abuses alleged to have happened
in three states. There were at least four law enforcement agencies that
had investigated.

Despite
the challenges,the team – investigative reporter Mike Rezendes,
photographer Maye-E-Wong,video journalist Sarah Blake Morgan,digital
storytelling producer Samantha Shotzbarger and
researcher Randy Herschaft – produced extraordinary work. Herschaft
discovered several critical threads that showed an alleged abuser was
working with children even after the church had known about one of the
men’s allegations.

Morgan’s
video piece wove powerful video and interviews that brought viewers
into the Mississippi Delta and the lives of two of the men. Wong’s
photographs showed the men as survivors,not victims,
and Shotzbarger in turn produced a mesmerizing online video using only
Wong’s still images and audio that Wong had intrepidly gathered from
another of the survivors, Joshua Love.

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A stature of St. Francis of Assisi at the entrance of the church and school that bear his name in Greenwood, Miss., June 10, 2019. – AP PHOTO / Maye-E Wong

The text story was used online by more than 150 AP members, prompted some publications to write their own pieces and yielded
a high amount of engagement time on apnews.com – an average
of 2 minutes,10 seconds.

The
compelling story builds on AP’s other exclusives in The Reckoning series
this year,including a piece that pierced the shroud of secrecy that
had allowed widespread clergy sex abuse in the
small,overwhelmingly Roman Catholic U.S. territory of Guam to remain
hidden and a story that revealed the operations of a small nonprofit
organization in Michigan that has been quietly providing
money,shelter and legal help to hundreds of Catholic priests accused of
sexual abuse.

For
their sensitive work on a complex,emotional and previously untold
story,the team of Rezendes,Morgan,Wong, Shotzbarger and Herschaft win
this week’s Best of the States.

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