W.Va. AG urges court to advance lawsuit against Wheeling-Charleston Diocese

Herald-Mail Media
September 05, 2019

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey urged a circuit court to allow the state to proceed with allegations that the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese violated state law through its knowing employment of pedophiles and its failure to conduct adequate background checks for those working at its schools and camps.

Morrisey’s response, served Wednesday afternoon, argues that the diocese’s motion to dismiss mischaracterized the state’s intent and distorted state law.

“The diocese’s motion to dismiss is yet another attempt to duck our calls for transparency,” Morrisey said in a news release. “Our response proves the strength of our case and why it should be decided in court. The decades-long pattern of cover-up and abuse must end and public trust must be restored.”

Wednesday’s filing argues that the lawsuit doesn’t seek to dictate how the diocese can hire, teach and operate. Rather, it seeks to enforce state law that requires honesty in advertising when the diocese markets its fee-based schools and camps.

Those facts include allegations that the diocese hid its knowing employment of abusive priests and its failure to conduct the comprehensive background checks it promised.

Morrisey contends that attempts to dismiss the state’s lawsuit rely on a flawed reading of the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

The state argues that a consumer transaction occurs every time a parent or other person pays a fee for the diocese’s education and recreation services, and enforcing the law’s requirement for honest communications doesn’t intrude into any constitutionally protected area.

The state’s response also takes issue with factual disputes set forth by the diocese. While it contends such differences are irrelevant at this stage in the case, it argues that many allegations contained in the lawsuit were based on documents the diocese provided to the state describing conduct purposely hidden from public view for 44 years after the state Consumer Credit and Protection Act became law.

The diocese didn’t issue its list of credibly accused priests until after issuance of the Morrisey’s first investigative subpoena in fall 2018. The lawsuit that followed has been instrumental in educating the public on the issue, and the state’s response argues there is much more to reveal that only can be accomplished by advancing the state’s case.

The civil complaint alleges the diocese’s conduct lacked transparency and stood in sharp contrast to its advertised mission of providing a safe learning environment.

Morrisey brought the action against the diocese and former Bishop Michael J. Bransfield in connection with violations of the state’s consumer-protection laws. The action also seeks a permanent court order blocking the diocese from the continuation of any such conduct.



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