Athens County Courthouse

Athens County Courthouse. File photo.

Glouster’s Holy Cross Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville were dismissed as defendants in a $1 million civil lawsuit filed 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 now 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 dismissal of Holy Cross and the Steubenville Diocese follows a motion to dismiss the case in its entirety filed in March by the attorneys representing the religious institutions and Monforton.

The woman, 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 defendants’ motion to dismiss, she was “groomed for sexual abuse … in open view of parishioners of Monforton and his other agents and employees.”

“The Diocese of Steubenville takes allegations concerning sexual misconduct very seriously,” Dino Orsatti, spokesperson for the Steubenville Diocese, told The Athens NEWS in an emailed statement.

“The diocese has a sincere commitment to protecting vulnerable persons from sexual misconduct. We encourage any person with information about misconduct to report it. The diocese has on our website a list of contact information.”

The Diocese also has published a list of priests who have been “credibly accused” of at least one act of sexual misconduct with a minor, Foxhoven included.

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.

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.

“Our client was a minor child when devout Catholics attending a wedding reception alerted Catholic authorities that a priest was acting inappropriately and in violation of the Catholic Decree on Child Protection in his conduct with our client,” Attorney Konrad Kircher, representing J.W., told The NEWS.

He noted the Steubenville bishop engaged in a cursory investigation following the claims, but later dismissed the concerns. A year later, J.W. was impregnated by the priest. She reportedly 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 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.

After an extension to reply in support of the defendant’s motion to dismiss was granted by Judge George P. McCarthy, Monforton has until April 9 to file his reply.

Editor’s note: Locally, the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program can be reached at 740-591-4266. More information about SAOP can be found at https://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.

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