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The attorney general of West Virginia has filed a lawsuit against the Catholic church in that state, alleging that it knew the Diocese was employing sexual predators who targeted children, but failed to take proper precautions or warn parents.
The complaint (PDF) was filed in the West Virginia Circuit Court for Wood County on March 19, naming the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield as the defendants.
According to the lawsuit, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey launched an investigation into the state’s Roman Catholic diocese in the fall of 2018, following a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that was released in August 2018, indicating that hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in that state had abused at least a thousand children in the state’s six dioceses.
That Pennsylvania report found that one or more of those priests had also worked with the Wheeling-Charleston diocese, according to the lawsuit. The diocese operates six high schools and 19 elementary schools in that state, including some pre-kindergarten programs.
“Although the State has not fully completed its investigation, due, in part, to the lack of cooperation from the Diocese, the facts learned and the documents disclosed allege the Diocese has engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices by failing to disclose to consumers of its educational and recreational services that it employed priests and laity who have sexually abused children, including an admitted abuser who the Diocese nevertheless allowed to work in a Catholic elementary school, in violation of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act,” the lawsuit states.
Bransfield, the former Bishop, retired in September 2018 amid allegations he had sexually abused adults while in his post. The lawsuit indicates the Archdiocese of Baltimore completed an internal investigation of Bransfield’s activities, but has not made its findings public.
In November 2018, the Wheeling-Charleston diocese published a list of 18 priests who worked in the state from 1950 to 2018 who had been credibly accused of child sex abuse, and a list of 13 priests who worked in the diocese, but were accused of sexually abusing children in other states.
The lawsuit details several instances where the state believes the diocese knew the priests were sexual predators but did nothing.
One example the complaint gives is that of Father Patrick Condron, who worked at St. Joseph Preparatory Seminary High School in Vienna, West Virginia, from 1980 to 1987. The lawsuit indicates he groomed a student there, later attempting to engage in sexual intercourse with the same student years later, in 1995.
He allegedly admitted the conduct to diocese leadership when confronted, and was placed on administrative leave, during which he was evaluated and treated at out-of-state facilities. However, when he returned to work in the diocese, and was stationed at Wheeling Catholic Elementary from 1998 to 2001.
The lawsuit presents claims that the church failed to deliver advertised services, including a safe learning environment for children, and failed to warn of dangerous services.
Late last month, the Vatican held a four-day conference on addressing problems of sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, but critics complain that the conference did not result in any concrete action.
The spotlight on the issue has renewed some efforts to level sex abuse litigation against the Church. In January, an attorney representing a number of victims announced that the Catholic Church had agreed to settle at least five sexual abuse lawsuits brought against a former priest in New Jersey.