UPDATE: AG adds new claims to lawsuit against Wheeling-Charleston Diocese about sexual abuse, background checks

By  | 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 5/21/19
The West Virginia attorney general is adding new claims to a lawsuit that alleges the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese knowingly hired pedophiles, failed to conduct background checks, and lacked transparency about what was happening behind closed doors.

A civil complaint filed in March alleges the Diocese and its bishops intentionally covered up "arguably criminal behavior of child sexual abuse." The complaint includes examples of the Diocese knowingly employing sexual abusers and priests accused of child sexual abuse. It also alleges that the Diocese hired people without adequate background checks.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office announced an amended complaint Tuesday that includes new claims that the church failed to conduct background checks in Kanawha and Cabell counties and report abuse.

The office is alleging the Diocese "failed to publicly report allegations of a Catholic school teacher abusing a teenage student in Kanawha County."

According to Morrisey's office, there was an internal investigation back in 2006 at a school in Kanawha County. Morrisey says a teacher allegedly "gained the student’s trust with alcohol and prescription drugs, before multiple instances of sexual abuse on and off school property." However, due to an alleged nondisclosure policy at the Diocese, these allegations were never publicly reported.

The amended complaint also says a Catholic school in Kanawha County did not perform background checks on as many as 22 employees and volunteers between August 2007 and May 2008.

In addition to the complaints in Kanawha County, Morrisey has added a complaint out of Cabell County to the lawsuit. The attorney general says a person who served in various positions at Catholic schools in Cabell County between 2004 and 2016 never completed any training or background checks. Those jobs included chaperoning overnight trips and working as a guest teacher.

This lawsuit comes after former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield was banned from exercising any priestly or episcopal ministry within the Diocese. He is accused of sexual harassment against adults and financial improprieties. He is also specifically named in this civil suit.

On Sept. 13, 2018, the Holy See announced the retirement of Bransfield. Morrisey's office launched its investigation that same month.

"The amended complaint alleges the Diocese relied upon Bishop Michael J. Bransfield’s policy of nondisclosure when it failed to publicly report allegations of a Catholic school teacher abusing a teenage student in Kanawha County. An internal investigation in 2006 alleged the teacher gained the student’s trust with alcohol and prescription drugs, before multiple instances of sexual abuse on and off school property.

According to this updated complaint, "Bishop Bransfield was made personally aware the background checks were not completed" at the Catholic school in Kanawha County.

The attorney general also wants to add a new count of unfair competition to the lawsuit.

"The unfair competition count alleges the Diocese omitted material facts when it advertised for prospective students to join its schools and camps," Morrisey's office stated in a press release. "This omission prevented parents purchasing its services from realizing allegations that the Diocese knowingly employed priests who had admitted to or had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children and failed to conduct background checks."

The AG's office is claiming the Diocese violated the state's consumer protection laws. Morrisey is also seeking a permanent court order blocking the Diocese "from the continuation of any such conduct."

“How can anyone reasonably argue that these allegations are old when the Church refused to release its list of credibly accused priests until after the issuance of our subpoena in the fall of 2018?” Morrisey questioned in a press release. “The Church needs to come clean and end the secrecy.”

Morrisey filed the amended complaint in Wood County Circuit Court .

UPDATE
The Wheeling-Charleston Diocese has released a statement in response to a lawsuit filed by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, accusing the diocese of knowingly hiring pedophiles and failing to conduct proper background checks.

The diocese says that they learned of the lawsuit through news reports and reject the suit's claim that they are not committed to protecting children.

You can read the statement below.

STATEMENT FROM THE WHEELING-CHARLESTON DIOCESE:

"The Diocese learned from media sources today that the Attorney General of the State of West Virginia, filed a civil lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Wood County, West Virginia, alleging that the Diocese has violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act. The Complaint is based in part on information included in the Diocese’s November 2018 public disclosure of clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse and on other information provided by the Diocese to the Attorney General over the past five months. The November disclosure by the Diocese contains details concerning both the dates of the alleged occurrences and the dates they were actually reported to the Diocese, which in many cases were decades later. Further, some of the allegations of misconduct contained in the Attorney General’s Complaint occurred more than 50 years ago and some are not accurately described.

The Diocese will address the litigation in the appropriate forum. However, the Diocese strongly and unconditionally rejects the Complaint’s assertion that the Diocese is not wholly committed to the protection of children, as reflected in its rigorous Safe Environment Program, the foundation of which is a zero tolerance policy for any cleric, employee or volunteer credibly accused of abuse. The Program employs mandatory screening, background checks and training for all employees and volunteers who work with children.

The Diocese also does not believe that the allegations contained in the Complaint fairly portray its overall contributions to the education of children in West Virginia nor fairly portray the efforts of its hundreds of employees and clergy who work every day to deliver quality education in West Virginia.

ORIGINAL STORY
The West Virginia attorney general is suing the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese. The civil complaint claims that the Diocese hired pedophiles and lacked transparency about it.

According to the press release, the civil complaint alleges that the Diocese and its bishops intentionally covered up "arguably criminal behavior of child sexual abuse." The complaint includes examples of the Diocese knowingly employing sexual abusers and priests accused of child sexual abuse. It also alleges that the Diocese hired people without adequate background checks.

This comes after former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield was banned from exercising any priestly or episcopal ministry within the Diocese. He is accused of sexual harassment against adults and financial improprieties. He is also specifically named in this new civil suit.

On Sept. 13, 2018, the Holy See announced the retirement of Bransfield. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office launched its investigation that same month.

Morrisey's office filed the lawsuit Tuesday. The press release announcing the suit says that the Diocese's actions "stood in sharp contrast to the Diocese's advertised mission of providing a safe learning environment."

"The Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield knowingly employed pedophiles and failed to conduct adequate background checks for those working at the Diocese's schools and camps, all without disclosing the inherent danger to parents who purchased its services for their children," a press release from Morrisey's office states.

The AG's office is claiming the Diocese violated the state's consumer protection laws. Morrisey is also seeking a permanent court order blocking the Diocese "from the continuation of any such conduct."

“Parents who pay and entrust the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and its schools to educate and care for their children deserve full transparency,” Morrisey said. “Our investigation reveals a serious need for the Diocese to enact policy changes that will better protect children, just as this lawsuit demonstrates our resolve to pursue every avenue to effectuate change as no one is above the law.”