×

Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Rejects Claims in West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s Lawsuit Over Sex Abuse Scandal

Michael J. Bransfield, center, the former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in 2011. Bransfield retired in 2018 at the same time allegations surfaced that he had sexually abused adults. File Photo by Scott McCloskey

WHEELING — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston said it “strongly and unconditionally rejects” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s assertion that the diocese is not wholly committed to the protection of children.

On Tuesday, Morrisey filed a civil lawsuit against the diocese and its retired bishop, the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, for allegedly failing to protect children from sexual abusers.

Diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop released a statement from the diocese late Tuesday.

Church officials stated, “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.”

Bishop said, “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.”

Meanwhile, representatives of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, applauded Morrisey’s civil action against the diocese and Bransfield.

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest regional leader, said Tuesday, “We are grateful to West Virginia A.G. Patrick Morrisey for undertaking this investigation and bringing these egregious oversights into the light. Knowing what went wrong and who oversaw these failings is the best way to make changes and prevent this from happening in the future.”

She said SNAP hopes Morrisey’s move “will prod other law enforcement officials to think outside the box, but will also encourage survivors, witnesses and whistle blowers in West Virginia to come forward and report to police.”

Jones also said, “Failing to conduct background checks for those working or volunteering around children is bad enough. Employing known perpetrators is far worse. These decisions put children at unnecessary risk and why? To save some time on paperwork or make a hiring process easier? Such actions are absolutely mind-boggling.”

The suit, filed in Wood County Circuit Court, alleges the diocese violated the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

In its statement, diocesan officials said, “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,” diocesan officials contend.

In a synopsis of the lawsuit, the attorney general’s office claims “the diocese deceived consumers by claiming its schools were safe while failing to disclose that it had employed credibly accused pedophiles.”

Currently, the diocese operates six high schools and 19 elementary schools in West Virginia, serving more than 5,100 children in 12 counties.

The suit alleges the diocese and 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. The civil complaint alleges those actions lacked transparency and stood in sharp contrast to the diocese’s advertised mission of providing a safe learning environment.

Last week, the diocese announced it had completed an investigative report into allegations related to Bransfield. 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.

NEWSLETTER

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)

COMMENTS

Starting at $4.39/week.

Subscribe Today