The West Virginia Attorney General has sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston a for knowingly employing child sexual abusers.
This latest clergy sexual abuse lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in Wood County Circuit, and accuses the diocese of violating West Virginia’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act by failing to protect children from pedophile priests.
“Our investigation reveals a serious need for the diocese to enact policy changes that will better protect children, just as this lawsuit demonstrates our resolve to pursue every avenue to effectuate change as no one is above the law,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement announcing the filing.
Last November, the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese disclosed the names of 18 Catholic priests credibly accused of abusing children since 1950, as well as another 13 who were accused in other states before arriving in West Virginia.
Bishop Michael Bransfield, a defendant in the lawsuit, retired last September. At the time, he was under investigation for sexually harassing adults and financial improprieties.
According to the clergy sexual abuse lawsuit, the defendants falsely advertised that Wheeling-Charleston’s six high schools and 19 elementary schools would “Provide a Safe Learning Environment,” even as they knowingly hired teachers and priests “who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children.’
These alleged actions “caused the purchasers of their educational and recreational services to buy inherently dangerous services for their children for many decades” in violation of West Virginia’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act.
Among other things, the lawsuit seeks civil penalties against the Diocese and Bransfield for “each and every willful and repeated violation”.
Roman Catholic dioceses and religious orders throughout the United States have already paid more than $3 billion to settle clergy sexual abuse lawsuits over the past 16 years, while least 19 dioceses have been forced into bankruptcy because of the scandal.
Morrissey launched the West Virginia investigation shortly after an August 2018 grand jury report revealed the extent of clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups by Catholic dioceses throughout neighboring Pennsylvania.
Similar investigations are underway in Arkansas, Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia.