Catholic diocese paid paltry sums to two poor, black abuse victims

A SURVIVOR of clerical abuse, and now the Mississippi coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), has blasted the Jackson Diocese and a Franciscan order over paltry compensation payments made to two black men who were abused by a friar in the 1990s.

Mark Belenchia

by Barry Duke

Mark Belenchia, above, was commenting on the settlements made to La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love who suffered abuse at the hands of Paul A West.

The former Franciscan friar and fourth-grade teacher has been extradited from Wisconsin to Mississippi to faces sexual battery charges.

Belenchia, whose abuse by a Catholic priest began when he was around 13 and lasted for three years, said of the settlements:

They were harmed as children and they were harmed as adults. The Diocese of Jackson and the Franciscan order ought to be ashamed of their performance.

Reporting for Religion News Service, Michael Rezendes wrote:

The men making the allegations, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love, both 37, are cousins who grew up together and encountered West in the 1990s, when he was a teacher and later the principal at the St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Three years ago, the cousins reported that West sexually assaulted them on school grounds and on road trips, including one to a New York summer camp established by the Franciscans, a Roman Catholic religious order.

As The Associated Press first reported, nearly two years ago La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love each agreed to settle their claims for $15,000 – far less than most clergy abuse victims receive.

A third man, Joshua’s younger brother, Raphael, also alleged West sexually abused him and reported the abuse to church authorities in 1998, after which West returned to Wisconsin. Raphael Love rejected a settlement similar to those signed by his brother and cousin.

In November, La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love filed a lawsuit in federal district court in New York, claiming the Franciscans pressured them into signing low-ball settlements that required their silence about their allegations. At the time they signed the settlements, they were not represented by an attorney.

“They felt they could treat us that way because we’re poor and we’re Black,” Joshua Love told the AP.

Father James Gannon, the leader of a Wisconsin-based group of Franciscan Friars, negotiated the settlements. Last summer, he denied that racism or the Loves’ poverty were factors in the amount of money offered . “Absolutely not,” he told the AP.

In 2006, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, which includes Greenwood, settled lawsuits covering 19 victims — 17 of whom were white – for $5 million. That average payout of $263,000 for each survivor is 17 times that offered to each of the Loves. Payments in more recent settlements nationally have ranged far higher.

Gannon also attempted to negotiate a similar agreement with Raphael Love, Joshua Love’s younger brother, who is serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed as a juvenile. Raphael Love refused Gannon’s offer because, he said, the amount was not enough to hire a criminal attorney willing to argue that he deserves a new trial.

West, 60, did not contest his extradition at a hearing in Outagamie Country, Wisconsin on August 17. He arrived at the Leflore County Jail in Greenwood, Mississippi, earlier this week following an investigation by the Mississippi Attorney General’s public integrity division.

West also has been charged with second-degree sexual assault of a child in Wisconsin.

Complete Article HERE!

3 women settle suit against Austin priest convicted of assault

By Katie Hall

Three women have settled a lawsuit against an Austin priest who was found guilty last year of groping a woman while performing her last rites.

The lawsuit was filed last month against the Rev. Gerold Langsch, 76, and the Secular Institute of Schoenstatt Fathers, which operates St. Paul’s Catholic Church, where Langsch previously worked.

The lawsuit alleged that Langsch used the application of holy oil as a ruse to grope women. Langsch has previously declined to comment on the allegations.

“The lawsuit and claims by these brave, wonderful women against the Schoenstatt Order and its priest were mediated and successfully resolved,” said their attorney, Sean Breen. “I am so proud of and happy for each one of them and so grateful for our system of justice.”

The parties involved in the lawsuit did not share the settlement amount.

Langsch was found guilty in June 2019 of a charge of assault against an elderly or disabled person, and he was given two years’ probation and ordered to pay a few thousand dollars in fines, court documents show. The court judgment also prohibits him from any ministry participation.

Langsch served as the pastor of St. Paul Parish in Austin from December 2015 to February 2019. The Diocese of Austin has said that Langsch was removed from the parish eight days after receiving a report unrelated to his arrest that stated he had failed to maintain proper boundaries with an adult.

One of the women who filed the lawsuit, whose report led to Langsch’s arrest in March 2019, reported the assault to Austin police in October 2018 soon after it happened, according to Langsch’s arrest affidavit. The woman had been ill and Langsch performed her last rites. The woman later survived her illness.

The woman knew Langsch prior to the assault, Austin police investigators said. When he arrived to perform her last rites, he used a bottle of holy water to anoint the woman’s chest three times, before he pulled out a separate bottle of lotion and began to apply it to her chest.

Langsch massaged and pinched the woman’s breast while asking, “Does that feel good?” the affidavit says. He also tried to put his hand down her pants, the documents says.

By the time Langsch was found guilty, other women had reported to the police that he “had breached boundaries or inappropriately touched them,” according to a statement that the Diocese of Austin released last month.

The second woman named in the suit said that Langsch put his hands down her back, under her shirt, also using oils. The third woman said Langsch offered to pay her $100 to apply the oils to her naked body.

The suit also alleged that in 2017 St. Paul’s Catholic Church received a report from a fourth unnamed woman who said Langsch touched her chest under her shirt. That woman was not a plaintiff in the suit.

The woman spoke to another priest to report the assault, and he “brought out a picture of Father Langsch, and the victim positively identified Langsch as the perpetrator,” the suit said. “Despite the report, Langsch continued to operate as head pastor of St. Paul’s.”

The Rev. James Misko, the vicar general for the Diocese of Austin, refused to answer questions about the 2017 allegations. In a statement, the Diocese of Austin said that officials first became aware of Langsch’s misconduct in February 2019.

Austin police Lt. Patricia Cruz, who works in the Sex Crimes Unit, said police are not required by law to report assault allegations against priests to their local diocese.

Officials with the Secular Institute of Schoenstatt Fathers also refused to answer questions about the earlier allegations against Langsch and also released a separate statement.

“We ask for continuing prayers for everyone involved that they feel God’s consoling presence as all who were affected by this heal and rebuild their lives,” the institute’s statement says. “We remain committed to caring for all those entrusted to us.”

Complete Article HERE!

Following priest arrest, advocates for the sexually abused share insight on what signs to look for

According to the experts, 93 percent of child sexual assault victims know the perpetrator.

By Roxanne Elias

Following the arrest of a Findlay priest, advocates of sexually abused victims are shedding light on how sexual abuse can happen to some of your most vulnerable loved ones.

“It’s shocking that in 2020 we’re still here with a clergy sexual abuse crisis in this country,” said Claudia Vercellotti.

For more than 20 years, Vercelloti been a spokesperson and volunteer with the Ohio Survivors Network of those abused by priests, also known as SNAP.

Vercellotti says she’s relieved to learn the FBI is spearheading an investigation following the arrest of Findlay pastor Michael Zacharias, who is facing federal sex trafficking of a minor charges.

Her organization is now helping victims on the road to recovery.

“Later it may be easier to say, ‘why didn’t you just ask for help?’ But to realize when you’re in the middle, it’s very difficult. And you’re feeling all sorts of different emotions that makes it really hard to make a rational choice to speak up,” said Dr. Victoria Kelly, the vice chair of Education in the Department of psychiatry at the University of Toledo.”

According to Dr. Kelly, 93-percent of child sexual assault victims know the perpetrator.

“When you’re in a position of authority over a child, like a priest, you have a passport for credibility into their lives, and those relationships are often encouraged unknowingly by your family. You know, it’s an honor when a priest takes interest in you,” said Vercellotit.

Dr. Kelly says there are several red flags to look for if a loved one is being sexually abused. They include changes in behavior such as not wanting to be left alone or physical signs of trauma in genital area.

And as for the abuser, there are signs to look for too.

“Warning signs of the grooming behaviors could be if an adult doesn’t respect the boundaries that a parent has set for their child, or they don’t take no for an answer. They make excuses or reasons to give special attention to their child or separate the child,” said Dr. Kelly.

Both the doctor and spokesperson for SNAP are now backing the FBI and encouraging other survivors to come forward, whether it be to law enforcement or to others.

“As a parent, caregiver for a child who has experienced sexual assault, it’s also important that you stand up and advocate for your child,” said Dr. Kelly.

“When you’re able to break your silence, when you’re able to tell your truth, you will unconsciously liberate others who are sitting out there watching your broadcast saying me too, me too. This happened to me and that is how we heal,” added Vercellotti.

For help from SNAP you can call 1-877-SNAP-HEAL (1-877-762-7432).

Complete Article HERE!

Ex-altar boy says he was abused by Cardinal McCarrick

— and witnessed more at beach house

In this Nov. 14, 2011, file photo, then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick prays during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual fall assembly in Baltimore. A lawyer says the key accuser in the sex abuse case against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has met with New York City prosecutors, evidence that the scandal that has convulsed the papacy is now part of the broader U.S. law enforcement investigation into sex abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church.

By Abbott Koloff & Deena Yellin

Geoffrey Downs said he was a teenage altar boy in the 1980s when former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick abruptly pinned him to a wall and sexually abused him as they prepared for services in Metuchen.

McCarrick, who would go on to become one of the most prominent clerics in the U.S. Catholic Church, allegedly said he could arrange for the two to go to a Jersey Shore beach house where they could have “alone time.”

Downs, who sued McCarrick and the Metuchen diocese last week, said he knew about that house because he’d been there a few years earlier on a retreat with a group of altar boys. He said he had been awakened by a sound just before dawn, and witnessed a priest sexually abusing a young boy.

“I was well aware of the beach house and what it could mean,” Downs, 53, said in an interview Monday.

His lawsuit is the second civil complaint alleging child sex abuse at a Jersey Shore home used by Catholic clergy and connected to McCarrick. In a suit filed last month, a man said he was abused by the former cardinal at a beach house where the prelate allegedly shared boys with other clerics. The abuse allegedly occurred in the early 1980s, when McCarrick was the Metuchen bishop, about the same time as the activity alleged in Downs’ lawsuit.

Downs’ complaint, filed Aug. 11 in Middlesex County, alleges he was abused by McCarrick in 1982 or 1983, when he was 15 or 16 years old, at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Metuchen. He said he didn’t know the bishop but had seen him celebrating Mass at the parochial high school he attended. Downs said he was abused just the one time, and that he recoiled from McCarrick and then quit going to church altogether.

The ex-cardinal was defrocked last year amid allegations that he sexually abused children and harassed adult seminarians, becoming the highest-ranking American Catholic official to be punished over accusations of sex abuse. Downs’ was the fourth suit filed in New Jersey over the past nine months alleging McCarrick sexually assaulted a child.

McCarrick’s attorney, Barry Coburn, declined to comment. McCarrick has denied allegations that he sexually abused minors.

Downs said he didn’t talk about the encounter until recently, when he began reading about others abused in the Catholic Church and “started realizing it wasn’t an isolated incident.” The lawsuit says he visited the shore house about a year before he was abused by McCarrick.

“A year prior to the abuse Plaintiff had attended an altar boy retreat at the Diocese Beach House and had observed another boy being sexually abused by an unknown priest,” the lawsuit alleges.

Downs, who now lives in North Carolina, said in the interview that the beach house visit may have been earlier, around 1980, which would have been a year before McCarrick took over as bishop of Metuchen. Downs said McCarrick wasn’t there during the visit. His group of altar boys was getting ready to leave the house after a retreat while another group had just arrived. He said he woke up just before dawn when he heard sounds coming from another room.

“The door was cracked,” Downs said.

He said he “peeked in” and saw a priest and an altar boy who was about his age, 12 or 13 years old. The priest was standing, he said, and holding the boy from behind while touching him in a sexual way. Downs said he ran when the priest turned toward the door. He said he didn’t recognize the priest or the boy, and that they didn’t show up for breakfast that morning.

Downs said he does not know the location of the house. The lawsuit filed last month alleged that McCarrick ran a sex ring out of a Sea Girt home — but the attorney who filed it has since said he may have been mistaken about the location.

The Metuchen Diocese didn’t purchase the Sea Girt home until 1985, several years after the alleged abuse outlined in the suits would have occurred. But the Sea Girt property has also been mentioned in accusations that McCarrick sexually harassed adult seminary students on overnight trips there, pressuring them into sharing a bed with him and changing into bathing suits while he watched.

The diocese has said it does not know of another shore home it owned in the early 1980s. Property records show the Metuchen Diocese sold the Sea Girt home to the Newark Archdiocese in 1988 and later owned another house in Brick Township, which it sold to Newark in 1997.

McCarrick led the Metuchen Diocese from 1981 to 1986 before moving to Newark, where he was the archbishop until 2000.

Downs said he visited the Jersey Shore house just once but remembers other groups had gone there for retreats. He said that when he was abused years later, he froze and didn’t hear everything the prelate said. But he remembers McCarrick saying “he could help me with my grades, and could arrange for alone time at the beach house at the shore.”

“When he said that, it touched a nerve and freaked me out because I remembered what happened at the beach house,” Downs said.

Downs’ attorney, Derek Braslow, said in court papers that at least seven people have told the Vatican they were abused by the former cardinal as minors. Church officials have been conducting an investigation of McCarrick but have not yet issued a report revealing the findings.

The recent lawsuits are among more than 100 filed against the Catholic Church in New Jersey under a law that took effect Dec. 1, 2019, suspending the statute of limitations for civil sex abuse cases for two years.

Church officials have said they knew of no allegations against McCarrick involving minors until two years ago, when they removed him from active ministry. They have acknowledged settling two claims brought by adult seminary students in 2005 and 2007.

In the late 1980s, at least two seminary professors sought to intercede on behalf of students who had complained about McCarrick and trips to the shore. One of the professors wrote a letter to the Vatican when McCarrick was named archbishop of Washington, D.C., in 2000. Months later, McCarrick was promoted to cardinal.

Evidence has surfaced showing that the Vatican placed restrictions on McCarrick’s ministry in 2008, shortly after settling the two seminarians’ claims. But McCarrick ignored the restrictions and traveled as he pleased as an emissary of the church, according to letters released by one of his former secretaries.

Complete Article HERE!

Disgraced West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield was told a year ago to make restitution.

His successor says Bransfield has gone incommunicado.

Michael J. Bransfield, then-bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., in 2015.

By Michelle Boorstein

More than a year after Pope Francis ordered ousted West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield to make personal amends for alleged sexual and financial misconduct, his successor bishop says he has yet to hear from Bransfield about a restitution proposal.

Last Tuesday, MetroNews, a West Virginia news site, quoted Bishop Mark Brennan as saying that he had not heard from Bransfield in “many months, and I would not expect to. … Whatever he is doing, he is doing and is in a dark hole. We do not know exactly what he is up to; we have not been in communication.”

In July 2019, Francis forbade Bransfield, a well-connected Philadelphian who had held prominent national spots in the Catholic Church, from celebrating Mass and from living in West Virginia. Bransfield had led the church there for 13 years. In November, Brennan had proposed, per Francis’s demand, a specific proposal for Bransfield’s restitution.

Some experts say the restitution package was a first for a bishop. Brennan called for his predecessor, now 76, to pay the diocese nearly $800,000, to apologize to victims, to lose his place in the diocesan cemetery, and to lose the normal bishop retirement package and instead receive a lower stipend equal to that of someone who had been a priest for 13 years.

Diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop on Monday referred The Washington Post to a July 28 letter Brennan wrote to the diocese. The letter only briefly mentioned Bransfield, saying that neither Brennan nor the papal nuncio — the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States — had heard back from Rome since November “on the plan of amends I submitted.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Brennan in the MetroNews report is saying Rome needs to approve of Brennan’s plan, Bransfield’s response or both.

Bransfield declined to comment Monday, and his lawyers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Post in 2019 obtained an internal church investigation that found Bransfield, as bishop in one of the country’s poorest states, spent millions of dollars of diocesan money on chartered jets, lavish furnishings at his official residence and nearly 600 cash gifts to fellow clergymen. The Post also found that $21 million was moved from a church-owned hospital in Wheeling, W.Va., to be used at Bransfield’s discretion. The money was moved into the Bishop’s Fund, a charity Bransfield created with the stated purpose of helping residents of West Virginia, tax filings showed.

MetroNews quoted Brennan last week as saying Bransfield “would not come up with his own plan and did not admit to his actions. Brennan previously told MetroNews that Bransfield told him he did not know who he needed to apologize to.”

Francis was the one who initially called for Bransfield to make amends, Brennan said told MetroNews.

“I wasn’t sent in to demand that. They demanded that. They asked me to work with him, and let me tell you, that was not easy to do,” Brennan said.

Bransfield has denied wrongdoing, saying that his staff in Wheeling was responsible for diocesan finances and which accounts checks came from. He has told The Post that he thinks he greatly improved the financial health of the diocese during his tenure and that gifts and lavish perks were within church culture norm. He has denied the claims of seminarians and priests who said he sexually harassed them.

Complete Article HERE!