Herald-Star [Steubenville OH]
April 13, 2021
By Linda Harris
ATHENS — The Diocese of Steubenville and one of its member churches have been dismissed as defendants in the civil suit filed by a woman who was impregnated by a priest before her 18th birthday.
That decision leaves Bishop Jeffrey Monforton as the only defendant in the suit, which seeks $1 million in damages for the now 19-year-old woman who maintains she was groomed by the since-defrocked priest, Henry Christopher Foxhoven, “in open view of parishioners … agents and employees of the diocese.”
Foxhoven, 47, was sentenced in Athens County to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty in November 2018 to three counts of sexual battery.
The lawsuit claims the girl, referenced in the complaint only by the initials “J.W.,” was sexually assaulted and molested by Foxhoven “on dozens of occasions,” many times on the Holy Cross church property itself.
It contends Monforton should have intervened but didn’t, choosing to stay silent even after he was notified of Foxhoven’s conduct and claiming he’d “failed to report Foxhoven’s illegal and harmful conduct, concealed the conduct, failed to take any reasonable action to investigate … Foxhoven’s conduct and failed to protect plaintiff from harm.”
The suit also claims that because of Monforton’s failure to intervene, the exploitation continued and the girl was impregnated.
J.W.’s attorney, Konrad Kircher of Lebanon, Ohio-based Rittger & Rittger, agreed to the defendants’ motion to dismiss the diocese and Holy Cross Church from the suit, accepting their representation that the bishop “is a corporation sole, legally responsible for the diocese of Steubenville and Holy Cross Church.”
But the judge still has to rule on the balance of the defense team’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit outright “because the allegations in (J.W.’s) complaint fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
“Foxhoven was Monforton’s agent and employee,” Kircher wrote in his response to the motion. “He was also a person with dangerous propensities, openly violating child protection mandates and engaging in sexual grooming (of the girl) in open view of Monforton and his other agents and employees….”
He contends the church, diocese and Monforton should have recognized Foxhoven’s behavior with the juvenile “was a danger to” the female, who gave birth to his child in 2019.
The diocese declined to discuss details of the suit “out of privacy of persons involved in the lawsuit,” spokesman Dino Orsatti said.
“The diocese and the bishop take allegations concerning sexual misconduct of one of our former priests very seriously,” Orsatti added. “The diocese has a sincere commitment to protecting vulnerable persons from sexual misconduct. We encourage any person with information to report abuse on the diocesan website, where contact information is provided.”