An Athens County judge recently struck down a motion to dismiss a $1 million civil lawsuit filed in January by a Glouster woman following the reported sexual abuse that she experienced as a minor by a since-dismissed priest.
Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey Monforton is the sole defendant of the suit, which alleges that he “negligently failed to investigate and protect… to intervene” in regard to reports of acts of sexual exploitation by his employee, ex-priest Henry Christopher Foxhoven.
The motion to dismiss was filed by the defendant in March.
“The Court is unpersuaded at this point that the plaintiff’s complaint is one that cannot possibly succeed,” Athens County Common Pleas Court Judge George P. McCarthy in May noted in his decision. “This is not to say the complaint ultimately will prevail or that the defense has no forceful arguments. Rather, it is a conclusion that the case should not be dismissed at the initial pleading stage.”
The plaintiff in the suit, who is referred to in the suit pseudonymously as “J.W.,” was a parishioner at Holy Cross in Glouster, one of two parishes of ex-priest Foxhoven. During that time, J.W.’s attorneys contend in their response to the defendan’s’ motion to dismiss, she was “groomed for sexual abuse … in open view of parishioners of Monforton and his other agents and employees.”
Judge McCarthy in May also struck a motion filed by the plaintiff for sanctions against the defendant in regard to the defendant’s reply to the dismissal motion.
In November of 2018, Foxhoven was sentenced in Athens County Common Pleas Court to a dozen years in prison, with no option for judicial release on three counts of sexual battery. Foxhoven is also registered as a sex offender and will be subject to five years of post-release control after he serves his sentence.
Foxhoven is not a defendant in this civil suit. Previously, the Glouster Holy Cross Catholic Church, where Foxhoven served as a priest, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville were listed as defendants in the lawsuit, but both bodies have since been voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiff.
According to an affidavit for the October 2018 arrest warrant of Foxhoven, the ex-priest had admitted to Monforton that he had been “sexually involved with a juvenile member of his congregation and that she was now pregnant.”
The lawsuit states that Monforton was informed of an “open and obvious violation by third party observers and the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.”
A spokesperson for the Diocese confirmed with The NEWS in 2018 that Foxhoven was suspended in 2017 after “taking a minor in his car to a wedding reception,” and also was ordered to get counseling.
The NEWS previously reported that the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office received a call in 2018 from somebody who said they were an out-of-town guest at the wedding reception in question. That unidentified person said he saw Foxhoven inappropriately touching the minor at that reception.
The Athens County Sheriff’s Office later received a letter from the diocese confirming the suspension and counseling order. The suspension reportedly lasted for one week. A year later, J.W. was reportedly impregnated by the priest. She gave birth to her and Foxhoven’s child in June 2019, according to the lawsuit.
Under Ohio law, a sexual relationship between a cleric and a parishioner is illegal while the parishioner is under the age of 18.
The suit lists several causes of action: breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, ratification and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $1 million, as well as punitive damages.
Editor’s note: Locally, the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program can be reached at 740-591-4266. More information about SAOP can be found athttps://www.saopseoh.org/. Any Ohio University student can reach the university’s Survivor Advocacy Program at 740-597-7233, and more information about the program can be found at https://www.ohio.edu/survivor.