West Virginia’s Roman Catholic diocese failed to publicly disclose decade-old allegations of sexual abuse of a student involving a Catholic school teacher, the state’s attorney general said Tuesday, May 21.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced an amended lawsuit against the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and former Bishop Michael Bransfield.
A diocese spokesman didn’t immediately comment on the complaint. It accuses the diocese of keeping secret a 2006 report on sexual abuse allegations involving a teacher in Kanawha County.
Morrisey said an internal investigation alleged the teacher used alcohol and prescription drugs to gain a teenage student’s trust before multiple incidents of abuses occurred.
Like the original suit, the amended complaint cited the state Consumer Credit and Protection Act, accusing the diocese of “unfair competition” over other schools when it advertised for prospective students to join its schools and camp without disclosing the employment of accused priests.
The amended complaint alleges Bransfield was personally advised that more than 20 background checks were not done at a Catholic elementary school in Charleston between 2007 and 2008.
Morrisey’s original lawsuit filed in March accused the diocese and Bransfield of a cover-up, adding the diocese didn’t conduct background checks on admitted abusers and priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse.
Attorneys for the diocese and Bransfield filed a motion last month to dismiss the lawsuit.
On Tuesday the diocese said in a statement that some of the allegations in the amended lawsuit weren’t accurately described.
“In the strongest terms, we deny the allegation that initial background checks were not conducted on school employees, as the amended complaint contends,” the diocese said.
In one decades-old instance cited in the original lawsuit, Rev. Victor Frobas, who was forced out of the Philadelphia seminary system because of a credible accusation of child sexual abuse, was made the director of a summer youth camp owned by the diocese. Frobas was then accused of sexually abusing children at that post and, following a leave of absence, was later assigned to work as a chaplain at Wheeling Central Catholic High School, the lawsuit said.
Frobas was convicted in 1988 of molesting two boys at a parish in suburban St. Louis. He served more than two years in prison and died in 1993.
In November the West Virginia diocese released the names of 18 priests or deacons who it said had been credibly accused of child sexual abuse since 1950, including 11 who had since died. None of the others are in active ministry.
Bransfield resigned last year and the Vatican appointed Baltimore Archbishop William Lori to take over the Wheeling-Charleston diocese. Bransfield had been implicated in a 2012 case against Philadelphia priests accused of sexual abuse, but he denied abusing anyone.
Catholic Church officials in March imposed ministerial restrictions on Bransfield pending the Holy See’s final assessment on the investigation into the claims in West Virginia.
“There are many, many wonderful people in the church. I know many of them. I’m a practicing Catholic,” Morrisey said at a news conference in Wheeling. “And I can say to you that a lot of people have been deeply disturbed by the activities and the cover-up here. The most important thing everyone can do now is to come clean, to be transparent, acknowledge the mistakes and move forward.”