WOOD COUNTY, W.Va. (WTRF) – Brand new details now on the ongoing lawsuit against the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese.
A Wood County judge has dismissed the case and sent it to the state Supreme Court for guidance. The case alleges that the diocese and its former bishop knowingly employed pedophiles. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed the case in March.
Officials are waiting on the Supreme Court to rule whether the case violates rules about the separation of church and state.
Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston spokesman, Tim Bishop, released a statement regarding the ongoing lawsuit
We are pleased and grateful that the Circuit Court of Wood County, West Virginia has concurred with the position of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston that the complaint brought by Attorney General Morrisey is not valid.
Looking ahead, we are confident that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals will affirm the Circuit Court’s decision.
The Diocese wishes to again assert its full commitment to the protection of those young people entrusted to its care in its primary and secondary schools across the State of West Virginia through its “Safe Environment” program.
We have no more sacred trust than the nurturing of these young minds and souls and have instituted rigorous standards for all who bear responsibility for their care: priests, religious clergy and sisters, lay educators, employees and volunteers.
As part of its rigorous sexual abuse policies which have been in place for many years, the Diocese maintains “zero tolerance” of sexual abuse of a minor by any person in its employment, by those who volunteer and those responsible for ministry who have been credibly accused. Moreover, we are committed to working toward restoring trust where it has been broken and to bringing about healing among all who, in any way, have been harmed.
It is important to emphasize the following:
There is no priest currently in active ministry or lay employee who has been credibly accused of abuse of a minor;
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston voluntarily initiated its own review of credibly accused clergy in July, 2018 with the aim of making the list public, months before the Attorney General’s initial subpoena;
The Diocese is working toward instituting lasting reform, increased accountability and transparency, and many controls and policies have been adopted toward that end. Archbishop Lori in his role as Apostolic Administrator initiated this process of implementing more rigorous controls which has been continued by Bishop Mark Brennan;
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has a strict policy of cooperating fully with civil authorities. We follow the state-mandated 24-hour reporting period for matters related to child sexual abuse, and our Safe Environment program is considered a model for other institutions and dioceses across the country.
Our schools, parishes, camps and other ministry programs are considered safe places for young people as well as adults;
The many good priests and deacons referenced by the Attorney General are the same ministers who are making our Safe Environment program one of the most successful and effective programs of its kind in West Virginia.
We are committed to being vigilant in our efforts to ensure the safety and protection of all children enrolled in Diocesan schools, camps, recreation and pastoral centers and the Diocese maintains a “zero tolerance” for any employee, volunteer, priest, deacon or bishop credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued the following statement Thursday regarding a circuit judge’s decision to stay litigation against the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston:
The court’s decision to stay our case recognizes the complexity and uncharted territory of this litigation, as well as the importance of guidance from our Supreme Court in this matter of statewide interest.Attorney General Patrick Morrisey
We remain confident in the strength of our arguments at the Supreme Court, although, regardless of the ultimate resolution, the need for serious transparency and reform within the Diocese is clear and that begins with release of the Bransfield report.
Let’s be clear about what is at stake.
West Virginians did not know of the Diocese’s list of credibly accused priests until after issuance of our first investigative subpoena in fall 2018, and through our subsequent lawsuit they learned of the Diocese’s alleged policy of nondisclosure, evidence as to its lack of rigorous background checks and its alleged history of moving about credibly accused pedophiles without notifying the families whose tuitions fund its schools and camps.
Without our enforcement action, everything gets swept under the rug. There is simply no other way to obtain evidence of these allegations and provide the public the transparency it so desperately seeks about these horrifying matters.
The First Amendment appropriately provides significant protections for churches; at the same time, it’s hard to fathom how the church can literally be above the law and immune to any review of its deceptive advertising practices.
The church cannot restore public trust by ignoring its past. Congregants and consumers deserve full transparency.
Our office is taking every action at its disposal to bring about lasting reform, but if the court determines our case cannot go forward, it would also blow a huge hole in the state’s ability to regulate deceptive advertising practices. This would leave no other option, leaving it to the Diocese to release records and enact reforms on its own unless others join the fight we started more than a year ago.
I have great love and respect for the Diocese and I want it to succeed, but within that passion rests a fundamental need to reconcile sins of the past against the transparency that consumers expect and our state law demands.
There remain many good Catholics in the Church, including priests and deacons, who have been let down, and I believe together we yearn to see that trust restored