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NEW YORK (ChurchMilitant.com) - Two cousins from Mississippi filed a federal lawsuit in New York on Thursday, claiming that Church officials coerced them into settlements that paid them little and obliged them to remain silent.
La Jarvis Love and his cousin Joshua Love claim that Franciscans Paul West and the late Don Lucas abused them repeatedly while they were students at a Catholic grade school in Greenwood, Mississippi.
The lawsuit alleges that Church authorities prepared agreements to keep the men from going to court or publicizing their allegations of sexual abuse that involved "raping and sexually assaulting them, making them perform sex acts on him, and encouraging them to perform sex acts on each other."
In the lawsuit, the Love cousins say West also abused them while on driving excursions from Mississippi to New York, where La Jarvis attended Camp Alvernia, a summer camp founded by the Franciscans in Centerport. The lawsuit says West also abused them at a hotel in Manhattan.
Paul J. Pennock, an attorney representing the cousins, said the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New York City since traveling from Mississippi to New York allegedly violated the federal Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation of minors across state lines for sexual purposes.
The men separately told their stories to the diocese of Jackson within the last two years. The Franciscans named in their stories, West and Lucas, both appear on the diocesan list of credibly accused clergy and religious.
Lucas died in 1999. West is listed as "removed from ministry; left the religious life." The Associated Press reported that West voluntarily left the Franciscan order and lives in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Father James G. Gannon, leader of the Wisconsin Franciscans, and Valerie McClellan, the victim assistance coordinator for the diocese of Jackson, tried to convince Joshua Love to settle for $10,000 last year, according to the lawsuit, which adds that "it was understood among the group that Joshua could not read and, therefore, was not able to understand the terms of the settlement other than the settlement amount."
McClellan has denied that she ever encouraged Joshua to accept a settlement since that would have conflicted with her dual role as Joshua's therapist and as the victim assistance coordinator.
Joshua was finally given $15,000 as a settlement and told to keep quiet about the abuse, according to an August report from The Associated Press.
John F. Hawkins, a Mississippi attorney also representing the cousins said: "These guys have never received anything resembling justice. I'm hoping this lawsuit will bring these matters to light and provide them with a full measure of justice."
Victims of clergy sex abuse typically settle for much more than $15,000 as Joshua did.
A 2006 settlement between the diocese of Jackson and 19 victims paid each survivor an average of $250,000.
Mark Belenchia, a leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) ― "an independent, peer network of survivors of institutional sexual abuse and their supporters" ― said, "These brave men were denied the opportunity to have a normal, healthy childhood and were further harmed after coming forward as adults by the Church leadership."
Belenchia hopes that the two men will obtain justice and find some closure.