Cardinals attending Pope Francis’ summit on preventing clergy sex abuse have called for a new culture of accountability in the Catholic Church to punish bishops and religious superiors who fail to protect their flocks from predator priests. (Feb. 22)
West Virginia’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a retired Catholic bishop and a diocese alleging that they knowingly employing pedophile priests and failed to conduct adequate background checks.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s suit follows the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s disclosure last November of 18 priests who were credibly accused of having sexually abused children over a span from 1950 through last summer and another 13 who were accused in other states and then came to West Virginia, though no complaints were lodged against them there.
“The diocese and its bishops chose to cover up and conceal arguably criminal behavior of admitted child sex abusers,” the lawsuit states.
The diocese had no immediate comment. In September, it announced Bishop Michael Bransfield’s retirement and said he had been under investigation over allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties. A team of investigators had interviewed 40 people over four months and delivered its findings to the Vatican, the diocese said.
The lawsuit focuses on the threat to children in alleging that the diocese broke the state’s consumer-protection laws by failing to shield kids from pedophile priests. The suit asks for restitution and civil penalties for violations of the state law.
“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,” Morrisey said in a statement.
As an example of how the diocese ignored child sex abusers, the lawsuit cites a priest, Patrick Condron, who worked at St. Joseph Preparatory Seminary High School in Vienna, West Virginia, from 1980 to 1987. It says Condron admitted to allegations of molesting a child, including long kisses and an attempt at intercourse.
Yet after sending Condron to treatment facilities in New Mexico and Missouri, he was returned to work at Wheeling Catholic Elementary School from 1998 to 2001, according to the suit.
In another case, the diocese was aware that a priest named Victor Frobas had been accused of sexually abusing a child in 1962 but was hired to work in West Virginia anyway starting in 1965. He was accused of molesting kids while director of a Catholic summer youth program, Camp Tygart, where he worked through 1976.
After treatment, he returned to Wheeling as a Catholic high school chaplain but was given another leave of absence after allegations again were lodged, the suit says. In 1987, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison for inappropriate contact with two children in St. Louis.
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