West Virginia attorney general sues Catholic diocese and former bishop

Pope Francis delivers “Urbi et Orbi” message from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 5, 2015. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi – RTR4W5JP

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

Some experts on child abuse said the move was precedent-setting.

“This is the most that we’ve seen so far in terms of prosecution, in terms of someone in the higher levels of the hierarchy. This is the first time we’ve seen a comprehensive claim against a whole diocese and a bishop,” said Marci Hamilton, a law scholar and head of CHILD USA, a non-profit focused on child abuse.

The news comes a week after Baltimore Archbishop William Lori barred Bransfield from any priestly duties. Lori was appointed by Pope Francis last fall to investigate allegations including that Bransfield sexually harassed adults.

Last week, Lori said his preliminary investigation, which involved five lay experts, was being forwarded to the Vatican for a final judgment. That probe was looking into allegations of sexual harassment of adults and financial improprieties.

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