West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey Issues Call for Witnesses in Clergy Sex Abuse Lawsuit
PARKERSBURG — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is looking for witnesses and people who have information regarding sexual misconduct in the Catholic church in the state of West Virginia.
Morrisey was in Parkersburg on Sunday and spoke regarding his recently filed lawsuit against the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield over alleged sexual misconduct of clergy and employees with children within the Catholic church.
“We are working hard to identify as many witnesses as possible,” Morrisey said. “We are continuing to move to the next step.”
The civil suit alleges the diocese and Bransfield knowingly hired pedophiles and did not conduct background checks on employees for schools and camps operated by the diocese. The suit also accused the diocese of not disclosing these issues to parents purchasing the educational services, a violation of state consumer protection laws.
The attorney general’s office started its investigation of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese in September. Morrisey said the diocese has been forthcoming on some — but not all — things related to this matter.
Church officials have announced a preliminary investigation on Bransfield’s conduct while bishop was forwarded to the Vatican.
The findings included sexual harassment allegations and financial irregularities.
“We are still deeply troubled by the lack of transparency we’ve seen,” Morrisey said. “We are very hopeful they are going to step forward and be more transparent, provide us with the investigative report on Bishop Bransfield. They have yet to do that. If there is nothing to hide, then let the people know.”
The diocese has cooperated to some degree, but has resisted providing a number of additional documents and getting to the bottom of a number of things involving various people, he added.
“There are a lot of big unanswered questions that need to be addressed and we need to get to the bottom of it,” Morrisey said.
The attorney general is asking people to step forward, reach out to his office and provide information that can help with the investigations.
“A lot of times in instances like this it is the people who step forward who will provide us with additional details,” Morrisey said. “They are the ones who can make the real difference.”
They are looking for people who were in those environments, Catholic schools or camps, who saw something or experienced something to come forward and talk with their office.
Morrisey, who is Catholic, said his office has gotten some anonymous tips, but to help build a solid case he needs people who are willing to step forward and be put on the record.
“We want the folks to step up,” he said. “We believe there are more that haven’t stepped forward yet.
“We are trying to identify more victims and more witnesses.”
Morrisey said this is not limited to Catholics, but people in any environment where there has been abuse.
“People need to let us know,” he said.
With this action, many people are worried about the reputation of the church, Morrisey said, adding there are a lot of good people in the Catholic church. He also acknowledges that there will be a lot of pressure on those who do come forward.
“It takes courage to step up and to speak out,” Morrisey said. “The pressure will be ferocious. I want people to know that they have someone they can turn to and that we will do our best to right the wrong.”
The attorney general said he wants the church to be as forthcoming as possible about its own investigation involving Bransfield.
“We think it will be helpful,” he said adding in what they have seen, they are not sure how some conclusions were reached and require more thorough reports.
“No one is above the law,” Morrisey added. “We want to get to the bottom of this and solve the problem. We welcome anyone’s help.”
People are being asked to reach out to the Attorney General’s Office’s Consumer Protection Line at 304-558-2021 and ask to talk to someone involved in this matter.
“These are very serious issues and we need to get to the bottom of them,” Morrisey said. “We need to insure the public that everything has been done to clean things up.”