WV Attorney General Files Suit Against Wheeling-Charleston Diocese
The West Virginia Attorney General’s office is suing the Wheeling-Charleston Catholic Diocese and former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield alleging that they knowingly employed pedophiles and failed to conduct adequate background checks for those employed in the Diocese schools and camps, according to a press release from the WV AG’s office. They further allege that parents who purchased services from the Diocese were not aware of the inherent danger to their children presented by those employed by the Diocese.
The entire state of West Virginia lies within the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese territory, which is itself a sub-division of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland. The civil complaint, filed on March 19th, alleges that some actions of the Diocese lack transparency and stand in sharp contrast to their advertised mission of providing a safe learning environment. The Attorney General brought the action against the Diocese and Bransfield for violations of the state’s consumer protection laws, in addition to seeking a permanent court order blocking the Diocese from the continuation of any such conduct.
The civil complaint alleges the Diocese and its bishops, including Bransfield, chose to cover up and conceal criminal behavior of child sexual abuse. The press release identifies two priests, Father Patrick Condron and Victor Forbas that the complaint says the Diocese employed despite credible accusations of sexual abuse against both men. Condron, despite admitting to sexual abuse of a student at St Joseph Preparatory Seminary in Vienna, WV was sent for treatment and later reassigned to Wheeling Catholic Elementary School. Forbas was ordained as a priest in WV despite accusations of sexual abuse in Philadelphia. He also received treatment and reassignment but eventually served prison time for abusing children in Missouri. In both cases, the complaint says that parents were not notified about the sexual abuse allegations.
The Diocese also stands accused of failing to conduct a background check in the hiring of Ronald Cooper, who it employed as a teacher at Madonna High School in Weirton for more than two years without knowing Cooper had convictions for first-degree robbery and third-degree statutory rape in Washington. The Diocese terminated Cooper’s employment in December 2013, yet allegedly failed to disclose to parents of children attending Madonna that it had employed a person convicted of child sexual abuse, according to the complaint.
Last week, the Diocese announced it had completed an investigative report into allegations related to Bishop Bransfield. Attorney General Morrisey is urging the church to release that report and fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s Office to uncover any violations of law in West Virginia. The Attorney General filed the lawsuit in Wood County Circuit Court.
Following the filing of the WV AG complaint, the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese released a statement saying 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 AG’s office over the last five months. However the Diocese claims that some of the allegations of misconduct contained in the AG’s complaint occurred more than 50 years ago and some are not accurately described. They also do not believe that the allegations contained in the complaint fairly portray its overall contributions to the education of children in West Virginia nor the efforts of its hundreds of employees and clergy who strive to provide quality education in the state.
Read a copy of the civil complaint at http://bit.ly/2CrtYHs.
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.