Catholic abuse case settled cheaply in Mississippi Delta, but lifetimes of scars endure

Published 8:27 am Tuesday, August 27, 2019

“It hasn’t been addressed in a comprehensive, thorough, transparent way,” Chisholm said. “And because of that there’s always going to be that sense of what else it out there? What’s been hidden?”

John F. Hawkins, a civil attorney who represented victims in the 2006 settlement with the Jackson diocese, said he’s preparing to file a lawsuit on behalf of La Jarvis and Joshua, in which he will argue that the settlements they signed are not legally binding, in part because of the “extreme emotional and financial duress” they were under at the time they agreed to the deals.

Hawkins will be working against a backdrop of a Franciscan settlement much larger than the $15,000 payments received by La Jarvis and Joshua.

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In 2006, a Franciscan province based in Santa Barbara and the Los Angeles diocese paid $28 million to settle claims made by 22 victims, with an average payment of nearly $1.3 million.

The Jackson diocese also played a role in negotiating the settlements with La Jarvis and Joshua.

Valerie McClellan, a therapist and the victim assistance coordinator, accompanied Joshua to his first negotiating session with Gannon.

Joshua said McClellan encouraged him to settle with Gannon, although she denies telling him that and said she maintained appropriate boundaries between her two roles as victim assistance coordinator and Joshua’s therapist.

But Belenchia said it was a conflict of interest for McClellan to be on the scene in any capacity.

“I don’t know how she could serve the diocese and serve a client at the same time,” he said.

For the time being, La Jarvis says he’s looking for help that will allow him to become more of “a rock” for his family.

“I’d love to be financially stable but I want to be mentally stable and emotionally stable, too,” he said.

Joshua, meanwhile, offers discount haircuts to friends and family in the three-room shotgun shack in Greenwood that he calls home.

He said he’s been unable to get a barber’s license because he doesn’t read or write well enough to pass the exam.

When he’s not cutting hair, he said, he spends time alone on his front porch, sitting at what he calls his “thinking chair,” a classroom desk and attached chair he recently salvaged from a dumpster.

“I just fell in love with the chair because it makes me feel like I’m still happy,” he said, recalling his early grade school years, before West and Lucas interrupted his life.

“It’s a school chair and I’ve been hurt by wanting to learn and go to school,” he added, breaking down again. “I guess there’s a child inside of me that still wants to sit there and learn.”