Sept. 06, 2019

Best of the States

In Mississippi Delta, Catholic abuse cases settled on cheap

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.

“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.

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.

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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Aug. 16, 2019

Best of the Week

AP investigation: Guam’s ex-archbishop protected culture of clergy sex abuse of children

Knowledge of clergy sex abuse is widespread on the mainland of the United States. But it has long been a secret in the small, overwhelmingly Roman Catholic U.S. territory of Guam.

Washington-based investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, working with Atlanta-based enterprise photographer David Goldman and Seattle video journalist Manuel Valdes, helped to puncture that veil of silence when AP examined thousands of pages of court documents in lawsuits brought by abuse victims and then conducted extensive interviews.

The AP team detailed a pattern of repeated collusion among predator priests, with abuse that spanned generations and reached all the way to the top of the territory’s church hierarchy, ruled over by then-Archbishop Tony Apuron, who himself had been accused of the rape of a 13-year-old choir boy when Apuron was a parish priest.

The care and sensitivity of the reporting and images were essential to the project’s power. “To see my story told in this way gives me a lot of peace, that I have a purpose,” said Walter Denton, a former U.S. Army sergeant and survivor of abuse nearly 40 years ago.

For telling a sensitive and little-known story of systemic clerical abuse dating from the 1950s to as recently as 2013, Biesecker, Goldman and Valdes share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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