Catholic diocese and former bishop in W.Va. knowingly employed pedophiles, according to lawsuit filed by state attorney general
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey Wednesday sued the Catholic diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and its former bishop, Michael J. Bransfield, charging that they “knowingly employed pedophiles and failed to conduct adequate background checks” for people working in Catholic schools and camps, a Morrisey press release says.
The lawsuit, the latest dramatic civil action against the American church in the past year, alleges violations of the state’s consumer protection laws. It accuses the diocese of advertising safe environments for children while at the same time, the complaint says, choosing “to cover up and conceal arguably criminal behavior of child sexual abuse.”
The lawsuit is seeking a permanent court order “blocking the diocese from continuation of any such conduct.”
Some experts on child abuse said the move was precedent-setting.
“This is the most that we’ve seen so far in terms of prosecution, in terms of someone in the higher levels of the hierarchy. This is the first time we’ve seen a comprehensive claim against a whole diocese and a bishop," said Marci Hamilton, a law scholar and head of CHILD USA, a non-profit focused on child abuse.
Calls to the Wheeling-Charleston diocese and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were not immediately returned Wednesday.
While Catholic officials and leaders have ceded that the Church failed in the past, some see the recent criticism as unfair for an institution that has invested many millions in child protection efforts. One church official Wednesday who declined to be named so as to not appear to be defending past behavior, called the new suit a “publicity stunt,” noting that the abuse alleged was decades ago and that policies have changed significantly.
Civil authorities in the past year have initiated several actions against the Catholic Church on sex abuse that are new in the United States, where the Church is the lar...