CHARLESTON, W. Va. – A Catholic diocese and its former bishop in West Virginia knowingly employed paedophiles and not to conduct sufficient background checks on camp and school employees, a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the attorney general against.
The suit by the Attorney General Patrick Morrisey against the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael Bransfield comes about a week after the church officials excluded Bransfield of priestly duties following an investigation into claims that he sexually abused adults and involved financial misstatements.
“The Catholic Church has to cover, hide, and deny that the child had-molesting priests for a long time, including right here in West Virginia,” Morrisey said at a press conference.
The suit claims the diocese and the Bransfield chose to cover demonstrably criminal behaviour and the claims of the diocese working his admitted sexual abusers and the priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of children without adequate background checks.
In a decades-old instance cited in the lawsuit, Rev. Victor Frobas, who was forced out of the Philadelphia seminary system because of a credible accusation of sexual abuse, was the director of a summer youth camp owned by the diocese. He was then accused of the sexual abuse of children on that post, and, after a leave, was later assigned to work as a chaplain at Wheeling Central Catholic High School, the lawsuit said. In 1987, Frobas was indicted for the murder of two boys at a parish in a suburb of St. Louis. He pleaded guilty, served about two years and then died in 1993, according to the lawsuit.
“We believe that an important first step for the diocese is to come clean with what he knows,” Morrisey said. “The church should open its files to the public and disclose what happened with any credible accusation of sexual abuse that the diocese’s attention, while the protection of the identity of the victims and their families.”
Morrisey said the case was brought under the state consumer credit and protection act. He said that his office is in the process of referring individual cases to local prosecutors.
A spokesman for the diocese, not a voice mail message, and no one responded to a voicemail with a phone number listed for Bransfield.
The Vatican announced that Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation in September and was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore William Lori to take over the State-Charleston diocese. Bransfield was involved in a 2012 case against Philadelphia priests accused of sexual abuse, but he denied abusing anyone.
Last week, Catholic Church officials said they were imposing ministerial restrictions on the Bransfield in anticipation of the Holy see’s final assessment on the investigation of the claims in West Virginia.
A Catholic high school in Wheeling, West Virginia, voted recently to remove Bransfield the name of a fitness center. His name has been removed from a care centre in Wheeling Hospital.
Tim Lennon, chairman of the board of directors of the national non-profit group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, applauded the attorney general’s suit.
“It keeps the people — these criminals — responsibility and those who are involved in covering for the criminals responsible,” he said.