CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Diocese of Wheeling Charleston is the target of civil litigation by the office of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The suit blames the Diocese and its Bishops for allowing those who had a record of child sexual abuse to continue to hold positions of power within the church, especially in areas with access to children.
“The suit alleges the Diocese and their Bishops knowingly employed pedophiles and failed to conduct adequate background checks for those working at school and camps,” Morrisey said.
MORE read full complaint here
The complaint was filed Tuesday in Wood County Circuit Court against the Diocese and former Bishop Michael Bransfield. Morrisey claims the Diocese actions in response to reports of sexual abuse by priests and other Diocese employees lacked transparency and was in contrast to the mission of providing a safe learning environment for children.
“As in other diocese in other states, the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese engaged in a pattern of denial and cover up when it discovered its priests were sexually abusing children,” said Morrisey. “Particularly in schools and camps run by the Catholic church and funded through tuition paid by West Virginia consumers.
The suit cites numerous examples, but Morrisey noted one in a Tuesday morning press conference. A known pedophile who had pleaded guilty to statutory rape was hired and taught for two years at Madonna High School before a background check was conducted and discovered his past convictions. It’s part of Morrisey’s claim the Diocese was slow to act.
MORE see video of Tuesday news conference here
“Since it implemented its ‘Safe Environment Program’, the Diocese has required potential employees and current employees to consent to background checks,” Morrisey said. “This is a great step in theory, but the Diocese must actually conduct the background check for the step to be effective.”
The civil complaint alleged the Diocese and its bishops, including Bransfield, chose to cover up and conceal arguably criminal behavior of child sexual abuse. It outlined several examples of how the Diocese knowingly employed admitted sexual abusers, priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse and hired others without adequate background checks.
Bransfield resigned in September 2018 and an investigation was started into allegations he sexually harassed adults. Earlier this month, it was announced Bransfield can no longer exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry within the diocese.
The complaint alleged that after Father Patrick Condron admitted that he sexually abused a student at St. Joseph Preparatory Seminary High School in Vienna, the Diocese allegedly sent Condron for treatment and later reassigned him to Wheeling Catholic Elementary School, from 1998 to 2001, without notifying parents it was employing a pedophile at the elementary school.
The complaint alleged the Diocese, despite its knowledge of a credible sex abuse accusation against Victor Forbas in Philadelphia, ordained Forbas as a priest in West Virginia and years later named him director at Camp Tygart, now known as Camp Bosco, in Huttonsville. Accusations there led to treatment, but later employment as chaplain at Wheeling Central Catholic High School, after which he received more treatment and eventually prison time for pleading guilty to sexually abusing children in Missouri. He died in 1993.
The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges the Diocese failed to notify parents about Frobas, even after he returned from therapy, upon his assignment to Wheeling Central High.
Another priest admitted on his employment application to having been accused of child sexual abuse decades earlier, yet the civil complaint alleges the Diocese passed on the opportunity to thoroughly vet the priest and adequately check his background. Instead, the Diocese and two bishops employed the priest for approximately four years at a parish that operates an elementary school.
MORE Read statement from Wheeling-Charleston Diocese here
The Diocese responded with a statement Tuesday evening saying it would “address the litigation in the appropriate forum.” It also took issue with Morrisey’s claims.
“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,” the statement said.
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 church should open its files to the public and disclose what happened with every credible allegation of sexual abuse that was brought to the Diocese’s attention, while protecting the identity of victims and their families,” said Morrisey. “This should encourage others who were victimized to come forward.”