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Catholic voices petition gains signatures; state AG’s lawsuit against diocese progresses

MORGANTOWN — The Lay Catholic Voices for Change petition is gathering signatures by the hour.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit against the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston filed by the state attorney general continues its slow but steady progress, typical of a civil suit.

The LCVC petition is posted at change.org. It reproduces the open letter LCVC sent to the Rev. William Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which expresses outrage over the sex abuse and financial mismanagement scandals currently troubling the diocese and sets out an action plan for change.

Copies of the letter were also sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

LCVC member Allison DeGeorge posted the petition and said it’s a way for other laypeople, besides the letter’s 44 signatories, to make their voices heard.

Thursday afternoon, the petition had a modest goal of 100 signatories and had already reached 80. Friday morning there were 180 signatures and the goal was upped to 200. Late Friday afternoon there were 250 signatures and the goal was upped to 500.

DeGeorge said that the signed petition will also be presented to Lori.

As previously reported, the letter and petition set out five goals for change: prayer for resolve to be successful in the undertaking; cooperation from the diocese, including release of the full lay panel report submitted to the Vatican; lay leadership involvement in developing a process for reporting and assessing sex-abuse allegations and the choice of a new bishop; confidence that the sex-abuse reporting and investigation process will provide victim advocacy and support for those who will help the victims; and open and honest dialog among parishioners and the clergy.

The attorney general’s lawsuit is filed in Wood County Circuit Court. The recently amended complaint doesn’t attempt to intrude into church affairs, but takes a consumer protection approach.

It says the diocese operates six high schools and 19 elementary schools – with more in the past – and has for decades failed consumers of the dioceses private education product by failing to disclose that it employed priests who sexually abused children or had credible accusations of sexual abuse, and failed to conduct background checks for priests, employees and volunteers who had contact with children.

The suit’s accusations predate the alleged sex abuse of former Bishop Michael Bransfield. It says that his predecessors,  Bishops Joseph Hodges and Bernard Schmitt, also knew of sexual abuse complaints against priests but failed to disclose them, despite a professed public policy of providing a safe learning environment for children.

Bransfield, the suit says, had a policy not to disclose incidents of sexual abuse in the schools unless the victim or victim’s family agreed to the disclosure.

The Dominion Post asked AG Patrick Morrisey for comment on the Vatican report and the LVAC letter in light of his lawsuit.

He said in an email, “Our office is still calling for the full Bransfield report to be released to the public. Significantly, much of the information being released by the Diocese never would have come to light if we didn’t issue subpoenas, investigate and ultimately file suit.

“The Diocese did not issue its list of initially 31, now 40, credibly accused priests until after issuance of our first subpoena in the fall of 2018, and recent disclosures are being revealed following the amended complaint we filed in late May.”

Tweet David Beard @dbeardtdp Email dbeard@dominionpost.com