UPDATE: Dismissal of diocese lawsuit argued in court

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WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) - Update: 9/10/2019

Photo: NBC News

Attorneys representing the Wheeling-Charleston diocese were in Wood County Circuit Court Tuesday, arguing why they want a lawsuit against the diocese dismissed.

Diocese attorneys argued the Attorney General's office could not use consumer protection laws to back the lawsuit's claims.

"Not once have we said here that the product is defective or shoddy," said diocese attorney James Gardill. "Not once have we said we are not delivering the products to the students, the education promised them."

"There are allegations the diocese told the public it was going to be transparent when these incidents occurred," said Attorney General's office Solicitor General Lindsay See, "but, in fact, engaged in a years-long policy of actively concealing this information."

Judge J.D. Beane is taking the atotrneys' arguments under consideration.

See said the diocese did not have what it called a "constitutional right" to lie to the public about the diocese and its educational services.

Also denied: the diocese claims that the abuses happened years ago, with See claiming some have happened just during the past few years.


UPDATE 7/19/2019 8:21 P.M.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia says Pope Francis has issued disciplinary action against its former bishop.

The diocese posted the pope's decision on its website, saying former bishop Michael Bransfield can't live within the diocese, can't participate in any public celebration of the liturgy and must make amends "for some of the harm he caused."

A church investigation found sexual misconduct accusations against Bransfield to be credible. It also found that Bransfield misused church funds, spending them on dining, liquor, gifts, personal travel and luxury items.

The diocese earlier announced financial reforms after Bransfield was found to have misused funds. The new policies were announced in a letter to parishioners this week from Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

Bransfield resigned as bishop last year.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


The West Virginia attorney general is accusing the Catholic diocese of attempting to 'sidestep transparency' with its efforts to dismiss a case by the prosecutor's office.

Patrick Morrisey's comments came on Wednesday after the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston filed an amended motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The suit accuses the diocese and former bishop Michael Bransfield of knowingly hiring pedophiles and not conducting background checks on school and summer camp employees.

The diocese is reeling from scandals that include accusations of sexual and financial misdeeds that led to Bransfield's resignation.

Wednesday's filing by the diocese says Morrisey has no legal authority to file suit under the state's Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


UPDATE: 06/08/19

The bishop appointed by the Vatican to investigate the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church in West Virginia now has his own explaining to do.

Archbishop William Lori oversaw a probe of alleged sexual and financial misconduct by Bishop Michael Bransfield, who has denied wrongdoing. His team's confidential findings in February prompted Bransfield's ouster.

What Lori didn't say in his final report to the Vatican in March is that he himself is among high-ranking clergy who accepted cash gifts from Bransfield.

The Washington Post reported that before and after versions of the still-secret report show names of Lori and others removed.

With the Post asking questions, Lori's revealed some more details in a letter Wednesday, and followed up Friday with a video saying redacting the names was a mistake.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


UPDATE: 06/05/19

The head of West Virginia's Roman Catholic diocese says an investigation into a former bishop found a "consistent pattern" of sexual innuendo and suggestive comments and actions toward subordinates.

Archbishop William Lori of the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese on Wednesday released the results of an investigation into claims against ex-Bishop Michael Bransfield, who resigned last year.

Lori says an investigation team determined that the accusations against Bishop Bransfield are credible. It found no conclusive evidence of sexual misconduct by Bransfield involving minors.

Lori says the investigation determined Bransfield also misused church funds for his own benefit, including to pay for expensive renovations to his private residences in Wheeling and Charleston, and his intended retirement residence.

No one responded to a telephone message left at a phone number listed for Bransfield.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


UPDATE: 5/28/19 05:55 P.M.

West Virginia's only Roman Catholic diocese has released the names of two more priests who it says have been credibly accused of child-sexual abuse in the state.

The two priests are accused of committing the abuse while working at the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. One of them previously was accused of abuse in Pennsylvania.

Eight other priests had claims against them in other regions or dioceses but not in West Virginia.

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register first reported on the updated list, which the diocese posted on its website last week. The original list was posted in November.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a lawsuit in March accusing the diocese and former Bishop Michael Bransfield of knowingly employing pedophiles and failing to conduct adequate background checks on camp and school workers.


UPDATE: 5/21/19 2:45 P.M.

West Virginia's attorney general is adding new claims to a lawsuit alleging that the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese knowingly hired pedophiles, failed to conduct background checks and lacked transparency about what was happening behind closed doors.

A civil complaint filed in March in Wood County Circuit Court alleges the Diocese and its bishops intentionally covered up "arguably criminal behavior of child sexual abuse."

The complaint includes examples of the Diocese knowingly employing sexual abusers and priests accused of child sexual abuse. It also alleges that the Diocese hired people without adequate background checks.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office announced an amended complaint filed Tuesday in Wood County that includes new claims that the church failed to conduct background checks in Kanawha and Cabell counties and report abuse. Morrisey's office alleges that the Diocese "failed to publicly report allegations of a Catholic school teacher abusing a teenage student in Kanawha County."

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Diocese said it learned
about the new court filing from media sources.

The Diocese also said the new pleading is in response to the Diocese’s motion last month to dismiss the attorney general’s complaint.

"The new allegations filed today contain factual inaccuracies that are not included in the Attorney General’s prior complaint but which are, however, based in large part on information that the Diocese previously provided the Attorney General’s office," the statement said. "In the strongest terms, we deny the allegation that initial background checks were not conducted on school employees, as the amended complaint contends. We can only surmise that the Attorney General’s office has not thoroughly reviewed the information which has been provided by Diocesan officials to his office."

The Diocese statement also said "we categorically reject the lawsuit’s assertion that the Diocese is not wholly committed to the protection of children, as reflected in our rigorous Safe Environment Program. The Diocese has a zero tolerance policy for any cleric, employee or volunteer credibly accused of abuse and it is the policy of the Diocese to report any accusation of this nature immediately to civil authorities.

"Moreover, the Safe Environment Program of the Diocese employs mandatory screening, extensive background checks and training for all employees and volunteers who work with children."

According to Morrisey's office, there was an internal investigation in 2006 at a school in Kanawha County. Morrisey says a teacher allegedly "gained the student’s trust with alcohol and prescription drugs, before multiple instances of sexual abuse on and off school property." But due to an alleged nondisclosure policy at the Diocese, the attorney general's office said the allegations were never publicly reported.

The amended complaint also said a Catholic school in Kanawha County did not perform background checks on as many as 22 employees and volunteers between August 2007 and May 2008.

In addition to the complaints in Kanawha County, Morrisey has added a complaint out of Cabell County to the lawsuit, alleging that a person who served in various positions at Catholic schools in Cabell County between 2004 and 2016 never completed any training or background checks. Those jobs included chaperoning overnight trips and working as a guest teacher.

This lawsuit comes after former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield was banned from exercising any priestly or episcopal ministry within the Diocese. He is accused of sexual harassment against adults and financial improprieties. He is also specifically named in this civil suit.

On Sept. 13, 2018, the Holy See announced the retirement of Bransfield. Morrisey's office launched its investigation that same month.

The amended complaint alleges the Diocese relied upon Bishop Michael J. Bransfield’s policy of nondisclosure when it failed to publicly report allegations of a Catholic school teacher abusing a teenage student in Kanawha County. An internal investigation in 2006 alleged the teacher gained the student’s trust with alcohol and prescription drugs, before multiple instances of sexual abuse on and off school property.

According to this updated complaint, "Bishop Bransfield was made personally aware the background checks were not completed" at the Catholic school in Kanawha County.

The attorney general also wants to add a new count of unfair competition to the lawsuit.

"The unfair competition count alleges the Diocese omitted material facts when it advertised for prospective students to join its schools and camps," Morrisey's office stated in a press release. "This omission prevented parents purchasing its services from realizing allegations that the Diocese knowingly employed priests who had admitted to or had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children and failed to conduct background checks."

The AG's office is claiming the Diocese violated the state's consumer protection laws. Morrisey is also seeking a permanent court order blocking the Diocese "from the continuation of any such conduct."

“How can anyone reasonably argue that these allegations are old when the Church refused to release its list of credibly accused priests until after the issuance of our subpoena in the fall of 2018?” Morrisey questioned in a news release. “The Church needs to come clean and end the secrecy.”


UPDATE: 4/28/19

Attorneys for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael Bransfield recently filed a motion to dismiss the suit brought by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

The suit, brought under the state’s consumer credit and protection act, alleges diocese and Bransfield employed admitted sexual abusers and priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse without adequate background checks.

Attorney General Morrisey says that he is disappointed in what he views as a lack of accountability taken by the church.

“It really is disappointing to me that they’ve put in this response and they’re wanting to engage in more cover up and trying to conceal getting to the bottom of all this information…If they would be willing to work with us- and I’m a Catholic. I’m someone who has a lot of respect for the church and the people in the church but, no one is immune from the law and we have to get people to come clean, and that’s all we’re asking for. We’re hopeful that they’ll begin to cooperate and not just continue to fight and conceal,” responds the Attorney General.

Lawyers for the diocese and Bransfield argue that the Attorney General’s office has not shown that they violated the consumer credit and protection act.

A Catholic diocese and its former bishop want a judge to throw out a West Virginia lawsuit that claims they knowingly employed pedophiles.

Attorneys for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael Bransfield last week filed a motion to dismiss the suit brought by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

The lawsuit alleges the diocese and Bransfield employed admitted sexual abusers and priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse without adequate background checks. Morrisey brought the suit under the state's consumer credit and protection act, which several attorneys said is a first-of-its-kind move.

Lawyers for the diocese and Bransfield are arguing that the attorney general has failed to show they violated the consumer credit and protection act.

Morrisey says the diocese's motion lacks merit and said he'll respond in court.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


In the wake of a lawsuit alleging the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and their bishops knowingly employed pedophiles and failed to conduct adequate background checks, the West Virginia Attorney General is asking victims to come forward.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is urging victims to tell their story.

This comes a few days after his office filed a civil complaint in Wood County Circuit Court. Several former Roman Catholic clergy members, with ties to the Mid-Ohio Valley, appeared on a list released by the diocese last November that said they had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors.

“We understand that victims are going to be reluctant to come forward. People want to just get on with their lives and we appreciate that. This is painful and you’re drudging up some really horrific activity. But this is an opportunity for us to really clean things up broadly…and we know the Catholic Church has taken some steps to try to improve it. But if we can clean up these issues, with the Wheeling Diocese and then send a message that no one in this position, whether you’re talking the church or other types of social or community organizations [is] going to be allowed to do that, that can make all the difference,” explains Morrisey.

Morrisey continues to say that victims of abuse should not be deterred from coming forward even if the abuse happened years ago.

UPDATE: 3/19/19 11:10 A.M.

“My office filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Wood County alleging the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and their bishops knowingly employed pedophiles and failed to conduct adequate background checks for working at the dioceses schools and camps,” announces West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

The civil complaint alleges that the diocese and former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield chose to conceal cases of child sexual abuse. It also outlines examples of how the diocese allegedly employed admitted sexual abusers, priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse and hired others without adequate background checks.

“They cannot police themselves. They are unable to do that. Law enforcement needs to get involved in order to get this cleaned up and exposed and those who cover up child sex crimes held accountable. Until that happens, kids are not safe in the catholic church,” says Judy Jones, SNAP Regional Leader.

The complaint alleges that after Father Patrick Condron admitted that he sexually abused a student at St. Joseph Preparatory Seminary High School in Vienna, the diocese allegedly sent Condron for treatment and later reassigned him to Wheeling Catholic Elementary School, from 1998 to 2001, without notifying parents that it was employing a pedophile at the school.

Condron was among several former Roman Catholic clergy members with ties to the Mid-Ohio Valley who appeared on a list released by the diocese last November that said they had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors.

Morrisey's lawsuit also outlined allegations involving several other church officials.

Last week, the diocese announced it had completed an investigative report into allegations related to Bishop Bransfield, who retired in September.

Morrisey urged the church to release that report and fully cooperate with his office to uncover any violations of law in West Virginia.

“The church should open its files to the public and disclose what happened with every credible allegation of sexual abuse that was brought to the diocese attention while protecting the identity of victims and their families,” notes the Attorney General.

“We always encourage victims to come forward, get help, and report your abuse to law enforcement. It doesn’t matter how long. Get it on record, urges Jones.

The lawsuit accuses the diocese and Bransfield of violations of the state’s consumer protection laws and also seeks a permanent court order blocking the diocese from the continuation of any such conduct.

Morrisey's office initiated the investigation in September 2018.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston issued a statement Tuesday evening saying it disagrees with the Complaint’s accusation that the Diocese is not committed to protecting children.

They also say they will address the lawsuit in the appropriate forum.

You can read the entire lawsuit on WTAP.com.


ORIGINAL STORY

The former bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has been disciplined after a preliminary investigation into alleged sexual harassment.

According to the diocese, a preliminary investigation into Michael Bransfield's actions was completed after five months of interviews with more than 40 people.

At the request of those who were interviewed, the diocese is not releasing information about the allegations.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, who was appointed by Pope Francis as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston after Bransfield resigned last year, has directed that Bransfield not be allowed to "exercise any priestly or episcopal ministry within the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston" pending the assessment of the Holy See.

Lori said he has also directed the diocese to use a third-party reporting system.

“I have further directed the Diocese to implement a third-party reporting system for any sexual or financial impropriety on the part of its bishop, clergy, religious and lay employees and volunteers," Lori said.

Officials said the diocese is providing counseling to those who have been harmed. Those individuals can call the Safe Environment Office at (833) 230-5656.

“I apologize to any who have suffered harm and express my gratitude to the five men and women who conducted the investigation, as well as to those who participated in this difficult process,” Lori said. “It is my privilege to serve the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston as the journey toward healing begins anew and as we anticipate the appointment of a new bishop.”


UPDATE: 2/7/2019

The name of a former West Virginia Roman Catholic bishop at the center of a sexual assault investigation has been removed from a high school gymnasium and a hospital building in Wheeling.

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register reports the Wheeling Central Catholic High School's board of directors recently voted to remove Michael J. Bransfield's name, which had been placed on the gym last spring.

Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston delegate for administrative affairs Bryan Minor says Archibishop William E. Lori accepted the board's decision.

Lori was appointed to oversee the diocese after Pope Francis accepted Bransfield's resignation in September and authorized an investigation into allegations he sexually harassed adults.

Bransfield's name also has been removed from a care center at Wheeling Hospital after being been placed there in July.


11/30/2018

Thursday's announcement by the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese releasing the names of priests "credibly accused" of past abuse against minors, was quickly followed by a statement from the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

SNAP noted a name missing from the list is that of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield.

Bishop Bransfield resigned his post from the diocese earlier this fall, after accusations he sexually abused a number of adults.

There have also been accusations of abuse involving minors.

Diocese spokesman Tim Bishop said Friday the list of priests, which include officials from St. Margaret Mary Church and Parkersburg Catholic High School, only involved priests whose cases were reviewed and found to be credible.

"The allegations that were made against Bishop Bransfield involve charter issues that took place when he was a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia," Bishop said. "The Archdiocese of Philadelphia conducted its own investigation, and found those allegations to be non-credible."

Bishop says tips have been made to a hotline set up by the diocese to report sexual abuse cases. The hotline number is 1-833-230-5656. He says those calls are being followed up on.

SNAP has also called for an investigation into the records of the diocese by the West Virginia Attorney General's office. Bishop says the diocese would cooperate with such an investigation.

We contacted the Parkersburg institutions with priests and school officials mentioned in the report. Both declined comment.


11/29/2018

The names of several former Roman Catholic clergy members with ties to the Mid-Ohio Valley appear on a list released by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston that says they have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors.

The list dates back to about 1950 and is based on a review of more than 2,000 files, the diocese said in a news release Thursday.

Four of the six who worked in the Parkersburg area have died. Two others are no longer involved in the ministry.

“We hope the release of this list will be one of many steps taken to restore trust with parishioners and the broader community in West Virginia, said Archbishop William E. Lori, apostolic administrator for the diocese. “We hope people see the release of this list as a sign of good faith that the diocese is committed to transparency, accountability and to providing a safe environment for children and adults.

“As we continue to pray for all the victims of sexual abuse, let us also recommit ourselves to do everything we can to ensure the protection of all who are entrusted in our care.”

According to the diocese, a “credible” accusation means there is reasonable cause to believe that an offense has occurred considering all factors—time, place, age of the parties, background and history available, personnel files, and any other pertinent facts.

The list does not include those cases where an accusation was not credible—meaning an accusation which, after review by law enforcement and/or other civil, lay, and church officials, was not supported by evidence or there is no reasonable probability that the accused committed sexual abuse of a child.

The list does not differentiate between criminal or non-criminal misconduct committed by priests, rather it refers specifically to violations of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People set forth by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002.

Those on the list with ties to the Mid-Ohio Valley include:

Rev. Carl E. Bauer Jr., St. Margaret Mary, Parkersburg, June 1963-June 1966 and Parkersburg Catholic High School principal, June 1966-June 1969; inappropriate touching of a minor; victim reported incident to diocese in 2004; allegedly happened in 1969 or 1970; retired in 2002; died in 2015

Rev. Lawrence D. Brown, St. Margaret Mary, Parkersburg, January-April 1985; two instances of abuse of a minor; incidents reported to diocese in 2002 or 2003 and 2018; allegedly happened in 1972 and 1982 or 1983; died in 1993

Rev. William Carr, St. Francis Xavier, Parkersburg, 1950, three weeks; abuse of a minor; reported to diocese in 2002; allegedly happened between 1950-56; retired in 1971; died in 1984

Rev. James Joseph Chetock, St. Margaret Mary, Parkersburg, November 1993-January 1995; St. Michael, Vienna, June 2002-June 2005; abuse of a minor before ordination as a priest; reported to diocese in 2018; allegedly happened in 1978-79; suspended and voluntarily left ministry in 2005

Rev. Patrick Anthony Condron, St. Francis Xavier, October 1977-August 1980; St. Joseph Prep Seminary, Vienna, August 1980-June 1987; abuse of a minor; reported to diocese in July 1995; incident allegedly happened between 1983-87; suspended in 2006; clergy status removed in 2012.

Rev. Paul J. Schwarten, St. John’s, St. Marys, W.Va., 1972-June 1981; abuse of a minor; reported to diocese in 1951; incident allegedly happened in 1951; arrested for inappropriate touching of a minor in Nebraska; reported to diocese in 1960; allegedly happened in 1960; abuse of a minor; reported to diocese in 1981; happened in 1975 or 1976; served 18 months in prison; died in 1995



 
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