Former Franciscan brother under current criminal investigation in Wisconsin for raping and physically assaulting African American children from Mississippi on trips to St. Francis and Appleton
A lengthy Associated Press investigation published today about a former member of a Wisconsin based Catholic religious under who is under current criminal investigation for multiple acts of felony child sexual assault in Mississippi, Wisconsin and New York State is raising troubling questions as to the treatment of racial or economically disadvantaged survivors of clerical child sex offenders by Catholic church officials.
Over the past nine months, church officials of the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption Province, headquartered in St. Francis, Wisconsin, have been actively soliciting secrecy agreements from African American victims of Paul West, 59, a former Franciscan, in exchange for financial settlements which are among the lowest in the United States. The settlements were brokered by church officials of the Jackson, Mississippi diocese. The secrecy agreements are not only in direct violation of the US Bishops policy on abuse but appear to have been engineered to mislead these victims into believing that West could no longer be prosecuted. The criminal statute on West's alleged offenses, however, are currently active in both Mississippi and Wisconsin.
Fortunately, because these courageous victims have come forward, West is finally being investigated in both states, including in Milwaukee and Outagamie Counties, where West allegedly transported children across state lines for the purposes of committing criminal sex acts, a federal crime that should also trigger and investigation by the US Department of Justice.
There are likely many more victims of West, who was the principal of a traditional black Catholic "mission" school in Mississippi. The allegations against him, which the order has confirmed as credible, include "beatings, rape, and other sexual violations" beginning when the victims were as young as 10.
The treatment of these particular survivors, according to the AP investigation, "differ from most victims with sex abuse claims against the church because they are black, desperately poor and, until recently, never had a lawyer to argue their case." These brave survivors represent the most hidden and vulnerable population of victims in the church, which makes their plea for justice ethically urgent and their treatment by church officials morally shameful.
Survivors are grateful that West is being investigated and, given the severity of these alleged acts, believe that he needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Wisconsin and Mississippi church officials also need to be investigated for allowing this dangerous abuser to evade justice. And his victims must be compensated properly for the immense harm and damage done to them, which includes the discriminatory treatment they have had to endure that has significantly compounded that harm.
CONTACT: Peter Isely, SNAP Wisconsin (414-429-7259, firstname.lastname@example.org), Mark Belenchia, SNAP Mississippi (email@example.com, 601-953-2535), Zach Hiner, Executive Director (firstname.lastname@example.org, 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)