Athens County Courthouse

A view of the Athens County Courthouse, taken from the city’s parking garage. Photo by Ben Peters.

A Glouster woman filed a $1 million civil lawsuit against Glouster's Holy Cross Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville and its bishop for negligence following her reported sexual abuse by a since-dismissed priest that she experienced as a minor.

Attorneys representing the defendants are calling for the suit’s dismissal, according to Athens County Common Pleas Court documents.

The plaintiff, 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 Henry Christopher Foxhoven. During that time, the suit contends, she was “groomed for sexual abuse … in open view of parishioners of Holy Cross and agents and employees of the Diocese.”

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 Steubenville Bishop Jeffrey 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 Athens 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., said. 

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.

Under Ohio law, a sexual relationship between a cleric and a parishioner is illegal while the parishioner is under 18.

On Feb. 26, the Diocese of Steubenville filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that it is not a proper party and lacks “legal capacity to be sued.” In addition, the motion states that “Bishop Monforton owned no legal duty to J.W. in his personal capacity.”

“Foxhoven and Bishop Monforton may have had a master-servant relationship in their official capacities,” the motion says. “However, J.W. has not alleged any special relationship by Bishop Monforton in his personal capacity that would have imposed a duty to protect J.W. from Foxhoven.”

A spokesperson representing the Diocese of Steubenville declined to comment about the case.

“We are confident that the case will play out in our client’s favor and we will be successful in protecting children from further harm by agents of the Steubenville Diocese, as clearly Bishop Montforton cannot,” Konrad said.

J.W. and her legal representation have until March 26 to file a response to the motion to dismiss.

The suit lists several causes of action: breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, ratification, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil remedy for victim of crime. The plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $1 million, as well as punitive damages.

Judy Block Jones, who is a leader for the Steubenville chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), voiced support for J.W., noting she and SNAP wish her “all the luck.”

“Thankfully Henry Christopher Foxhoven is in jail and away from kids,” she said in an emailed statement. “Bishop Monforton and the Steubenville diocese failed the victim. They need to be held accountable also."

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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