US diocese, bishop sued over employing known paedophiles

Ex-bishop Michael Bransfield (left), seen here in 2010 at a birthday celebration for then pope Benedict XVI, has been sued over allegations he knowingly employed pedophiles in schools. (AFP pic)

WASHINGTON: The US state of West Virginia on Tuesday sued a Catholic diocese and a bishop over allegations they knowingly employed paedophiles in schools.

State attorney general Patrick Morrisey announced he had filed suit against the diocese of Wheeling/Charleston – located over 400 km west of Washington – and against its former bishop Michael Bransfield.

Bransfield was himself dismissed in September following allegations of sexual harassment against adults. He had been bishop since 2005.

Now, he and the diocese face a consumer protection suit.

“The bishops and diocese knew the diocese employed priests who had been credibly accused of sexually abusing children in schools and camps and intentionally failed to warn the purchasers of educational and recreational services, parents,” the suit claims.

According to the complaint, one priest confessed to assaulting a student at a high school in the 1980s, and was laid off before returning to a job at a primary school in the diocese between 1998 and 2001.

Another disclosed while applying for a job in 2002 that he had been accused of assaulting a minor in 1979. Nevertheless, he went on to work at a primary school in the diocese for four years.

Morrisey also accused the diocese of lying on its website, which claimed that school employees were subject to background checks.

A man convicted of rape in Washington was hired to teach in a diocese high school, with his contract terminated in 2013, the complaint said.

The American Catholic Church was shaken last year by revelations of sexual abuse by some 300 priests over decades in Pennsylvania.

In October, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, who was suspected of covering up the scandal.