West Virginia AG Morrisey files suit against Wheeling-Charleston diocese for allegedly failing to protect children

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey today filed a civil suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and its retired bishop, the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, for failing to protect children from sexual abusers.

The suit alleges the diocese and Bransfield knowingly employed pedophiles and failed to conduct adequate background checks for those working at the diocese’s schools and camps, all without disclosing the inherent danger to parents who purchased its services for their children.

The civil complaint, filed today, alleges those actions lacked transparency and stood in sharp contrast to the diocese’s advertised mission of providing a safe learning environment. Morrisey filed the lawsuit in Wood County Circuit Court.

The attorney general said he brought the action against the diocese and Bransfield for violations of the state’s consumer protection laws, in addition to seeking a permanent court order blocking the diocese from the continuation of any such conduct.

Morrisey initiated his investigation in September 2018.

“Parents who pay and entrust the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese and its schools to educate and care for their children deserve full transparency,” Morrisey said. “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.”

The civil complaint alleges the diocese and its bishops, including Bransfield, chose to cover up and conceal arguably criminal behavior of child sexual abuse. It outlines examples of how the diocese knowingly employed admitted sexual abusers, priests credibly accused of child sexual abuse and hired others without adequate background checks.

The complaint alleges that after the Rev. 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 it was employing an alleged pedophile at the elementary school.

The complaint further alleges the diocese, despite its knowledge of a credible sex abuse accusation against Victor Forbas in Philadelphia, ordained Forbas as a priest in West Virginia and years later named him director at Camp Tygart, now known as Camp Bosco, in Huttonsville.

Accusations there led to treatment, but later employment as chaplain at Wheeling Central Catholic High School, after which he received more treatment and eventually prison time for pleading guilty to sexually abusing children in Missouri. He died in 1993.

The attorney general’s lawsuit alleges the diocese failed to notify parents about Frobas, even after he returned from therapy, upon his assignment to Wheeling Central High.

Another priest admitted on his employment application to having been accused of child sexual abuse decades earlier, yet the civil complaint alleges the diocese passed on the opportunity to thoroughly vet the priest and adequately check his background. Instead, the diocese and two bishops employed the priest for approximately four years at a parish that operates an elementary school.

The diocese also stands accused of failing to conduct a background check in the hiring of Ronald Cooper, who it employed as a teacher at Madonna High School in Weirton for more than two years without detecting his convictions for first-degree robbery and third-degree statutory rape in Washington.

The diocese terminated Cooper’s employment in December 2013, yet allegedly failed to disclose to parents of children attending Madonna that it had employed a person convicted of child sexual abuse, according to the complaint.

“Today is a sad day, but the attorney general still believes there are so many priests and deacons in the Catholic church — who are good men — who will support this effort so we can really seek meaningful changes in how the church handles sexual abuse,” Morrisey said.

Last week, the diocese announced it had completed an investigative report into allegations related to Bransfield. Morrisey is urging the church to release that report and fully cooperate with the attorney general’s office to uncover any violations of law in West Virginia.

COMMENTS