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
“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.
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.
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.