"Seattle--Chinese Southern Baptist Cross" by Joe Mabel / CC BY-SA 3.0

West Virginia accuses Catholic diocese and former bishops of sex abuse cover-up in unusual consumer protection lawsuit

Mar 20, 2019

By Michelle Boorstein, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and Tom Jackman

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sued the Catholic diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and its former bishop Michael J. Bransfield on Tuesday, charging that they “knowingly employed pedophiles and failed to conduct adequate background checks” for people working in Catholic schools and camps, a news release from Morrisey’s office says.

The lawsuit, the latest dramatic civil action against the American church in the past year, alleges violations of the state’s consumer protection laws. It accuses the diocese of advertising safe environments for children while at the same time, the complaint says, choosing “to cover up and conceal arguably criminal behavior of child sexual abuse.”

Some child abuse experts said the move was precedent-setting, both in terms of targeting an entire diocese rather than individual priests, and by using consumer law to launch a civil lawsuit which could unlock the church’s files through legal discovery. The West Virginia attorney general used the consumer fraud strategy because, as with attorneys general in other states, he is not empowered to launch a criminal grand jury investigation.

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