West Virginia Supreme Court to take up church-and-state question in lawsuit against Wheeling-Charleston Diocese

WV News

July 24, 2020

By Matt Harvey


Charleston WV – The state Supreme Court will hear arguments Sept. 22 on whether a consumer protection lawsuit can move forward against the state’s only Roman Catholic diocese.

At the heart of the issue: Whether the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office under the Consumer Credit and Protection Act is a violation of the separation of church and state doctrine in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Wood County Judge J.D. Beane, who’s presiding over the case at the circuit court level, has ruled Morrisey’s lawsuit opens too much potential for violation of separation of church and state. However, Beane stayed his order granting the diocese’s motion to dismiss Morrisey’s lawsuit and sent the matter to the state Supreme Court as a certified question.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling might not be the end of the matter. Although the U.S. Supreme Court refuses most cases, one with this kind of question might make it on the docket if an appeal is filed by either side.

Morrisey filed the consumer protection action against the diocese in early 2019, alleging misleading and false claims by the church organization over the safety of its private school educational programs and camps.

The lawsuit contends the diocese had a duty to note past instances of sexual crimes and misconduct by priests it had hired. The filing also questions the commitment of the diocese to ferreting out problem hires through background checks, and it indicates that appropriate action wasn’t always taken even when wrongdoing was discovered.

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