New lawsuit claims Diocese of Savannah covered up allegations of child molestation

New lawsuit claims Diocese of Savannah covered up allegations of child molestation

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A new lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Savannah claims the Diocese covered up allegations of child molestation more than 30 years ago.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday is the third one involving convicted child molester Wayland Brown who was a priest in Savannah from 1987 to 1988. This lawsuit accuses the Diocese of Savannah of conspiracy and fraud.

Like the civil cases filed in the past, it outlines the sexual abuse of Priest Wayland Brown against boys enrolled at St James Catholic School. But more than that, this lawsuit includes a transcript and a memo from the Diocese.

The attorney in this case says that shows the extent of what the Diocese knew. Outlined in the 11-page lawsuit filed Wednesday are accusations of child molestation and a cover-up by the Diocese of Savannah.

The facts of the case are from more than 30 years. But the wounds are still fresh.

“He has absolutely led a devastated life in fact he is still recovering from his last relapse into drug abuse,” Tate said.

WTOC doesn’t normally name victims of sexual assault and rape, but in this case his attorney Mark Tate says his client, who is recovering at a drug and alcohol rehab facility, wanted to be named in the public filing of the lawsuit.

“This man is an adult. He’s lived with this his whole life and he doesn’t want the catholic church hanging anything over his head. So, he wanted to come public,” Tate said.

In 1987, Bill Baker Jr. was a 9-year-old at St. James Catholic School in Savannah when he says Priest Wayland Brown molested and raped him.

The Diocese defrocked Brown in 1988. He was convicted in 2002 in Maryland on charges of child sex abuse.

And in 2018, he was convicted of sexual crimes against children - including boys who attended St James during the same time. He died last year while serving a 20 year prison sentence.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday is largely focused on what the Diocese of Savannah knew a year before the molestations at St. James.

In the 1986 transcript attached to the lawsuit, it describes a meeting called by then acting Bishop Raymond Lessard after he learned of a police investigation involving Priest Brown and allegations, he molested boys in another Georgia county.

In the transcript, the priest admits to a molestation encounter with a boy, but says it was not sexual. Instead of turning him over to police, Tate said the Diocese sent the priest away.

“They sent him off to a priest pedophile rehab camp in Maryland called St. James,” Tate said.

Less than a year later, a May 19, 1987, internal memo from the Diocese of Savannah shows his return and what the diocese knew when it placed him in Savannah. Tate included those documents in the initial complaint filing on Wednesday.

He said he obtained some of the documents from diocese in a previous civil lawsuit he settled in 2016.

I did ask the Diocese for comment about the lawsuit. A spokesperson said the Diocese of Savannah has not seen the lawsuit yet nor had it been served, and therefore the diocese could not comment.

This is not the first lawsuit against the Diocese of Savannah involving Priest Brown.

In 2016, the diocese reached a $4.5 million settlement through mediation of a lawsuit that named Brown and two bishops. And another in 2009, the diocese agreed to pay $4.24 million to another victim.

Both victims attended school at St. James where the priest was assigned between 1987 and 1988.

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