Wheeling-Charleston Diocese Releases List of Priests Accused of Sexual Abuse Since 1950
WHEELING — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston released Thursday the names of 31 clergy members accused of sexual abuse through lists that include dozens of incidents dating back as far as 1950.
The diocese released two lists — one of 18 priests accused while serving in the diocese and one of 13 priests who served in the diocese but were credibly accused elsewhere — with the hope that others who may have been victims will come forward. Of those 31 clergy members, 18 served in the Northern Panhandle.
“Every single one was a surprise,” Bryan Minor, delegate for administrative affairs for the diocese, said of the names during a press conference Thursday.
The diocese reviewed more than 2,000 files and tens of thousands of documents to produce the lists with the intent of being transparent and helping people heal, Minor said.
“The diocese sincerely apologizes to all victims of clergy sexual abuse and all the families or individuals who have been affected by sexual abuse within the church,” he said.
The lists include credible accusations of sex abuse against minors, meaning that there is a “reasonable cause” to believe an offense has occurred, Minor said. The incidents involve violations of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, rules set by the church in 2002 to address abuse allegations. The lists also do not specify whether the misconduct conducted by clergy was criminal or not.
Judy Jones, a representative of the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, emailed a statement late Thursday in response to the lists.
“We appreciate this move by church officials in West Virginia, especially for including the names of priests who served in West Virginia but were accused of abuse in dioceses outside Wheeling-Charleston,” she wrote.
“However, we cannot help but note the omission of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, who has been accused of abusing at least one minor resigned in September over allegations that he had sexually harassed a number of adults.”
Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation and ordered an investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed adults.
Accusations of abuse against Bransfield arose in 2012 during the criminal trial in Philadelphia of the Rev. James Brennan on sex abuse charges and of Msgr. William Lynn for conspiracy and endangerment. In that case, two witnesses and a prosecutor alleged Bransfield “may have known about sexual misconduct by [another priest] or abused minors himself,” according to published reports. Bransfield has denied the allegations.
“The omission of Bishop Bransfield has us wondering what other claims were deemed by the diocese to not be ‘credible,” Jones continued. “Only independent law enforcement professionals can truly determine when an allegation is ‘credible’ or not, especially given that we have seen church officials deem accusations not credible only to be proven horribly wrong later.”
A total of 11 of the 18 priests accused while serving in the diocese are dead. Around 800 priests have been through the diocese during the time period that the list covers, Minor said.
“We failed to protect children,” he said. “I wish we could go back in time to change how they treated cases. If we could go back … we certainly would do that.”
The lists include full information of incidents, such as descriptions, dates and statuses of the priests. Minor said the diocese aimed to give easier points of reference for people who may have been abused.
One priest on the list, the Rev. Victor Frobas, had 17 incidents ranging from 1959 to 1987 that involved multiple claims of abuse of minors. Frobas served multiple assignments in Wheeling in those years and died in 1993.
The diocese suspended Frobas on Jan. 27, 1987. Later that year, he was indicted for inappropriate contact with two minors. He eventually pleaded guilty and spent 18 months in prison, followed by probation.
“This list undoubtedly reveals the failings of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston to fully protect young people within the Church,” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in a prepared statement from the diocese. “Rightly, many have a cause for anger and pain. I offer my sincerest apologies to all victims of sexual abuse and vow to strive to take proper action to ensure the safety of children and others in our care.”
The diocese created a hotline for people to call to report acts of sexual abuse by clergy, staff or volunteers. Minor said tending to the needs of those who call the hotline will be a major focus of the diocese moving forward. That hotline can be reached at 1-833-230-5656.
“All hotline calls will be answered by staff members equipped to properly document details of abuse and direct callers to the victims’ assistance program if needed,” Minor said.
The release of names follows similar actions by dioceses across the country that released names of priests involved in sex abuse of minors. Most recently, the diocese in Jefferson City, Missouri, released names of such clergy Nov. 8. The Diocese of Steubenville released a similar list at the end of October.