Complaint, lawsuit filed against Catholic Diocese of Savannah alleging sexual abuse by former priest

Complaint, lawsuit filed against Catholic Diocese of Savannah alleging sexual abuse by former priest

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - WTOC has learned of a new complaint and lawsuit filed against the Catholic Diocese of Savannah alleging sexual abuse by a former priest.

The name of the priest is a familiar one, as he has been named twice before in similar suits and similar allegations. This complaint states 28 years ago, former priest Wayland Yoder Brown sexually abused a 13-year-old St. James Catholic School student. Brown allegedly took him into South Carolina where he forced him to perform sex acts.

The Diocese, Raymond W. Lessard, bishop at the time, and current Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer are named as defendants. The complaint also contends the diocese knew about dangers involving Brown as far back as 1969. The Catholic Church removed Brown from active ministry in 1988 when allegations of child molestation first surfaced.

In 2003, Brown was convicted in Maryland on charges of child molestation. He served five years of a 10-year sentence. In 2004 he was defrocked from the priesthood. He remains on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry.

WTOC spoke to the victim's attorney, Mark Tate, who said the diocese wanted his client to remain silent, like Brown tried to do 28 years ago.

“And as early as 1969, was an unholy man and was unworthy of the priesthood, and had been accused, in fact, already of doing inappropriate things with children and was found to be someone who would do more harm to this diocese than not," Tate said.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, has followed cases involving Wayland Yoder Brown dating as far back as the late 1960's. SNAP Outreach Director Barbara Dorris said, “We feel the Church has a moral obligation to warn people where this dangerous predator is, to exert and use every resource at their disposal to confine this man to a situation where he would have no access to children.”

Here is the link to a news release posted on SNAP's website in response to the suit:

The Diocese of Savannah released the following statement:

This matter is the subject of pending litigation. The Diocese of Savannah has confidence in the legal process and looks forward to its opportunity to address the allegations in Court. The Diocese of Savannah does not believe it appropriate to comment on the circumstances of the pending litigation in this forum.

The Diocese of Savannah does not tolerate the sexual abuse of children. The Diocese of Savannah had no prior knowledge that Wayland Brown had abused children at the time periods referenced over thirty years ago. In 1987, Wayland Brown was assigned to St. James Parish, and at that time there were no allegations of sexual abuse against him.

The Diocese of Savannah is adamant that the abuse of children will not be tolerated by anyone, especially church personnel. The Diocese of Savannah encourages anyone with knowledge of abuse to come forward and report such allegations to the Diocese of Savannah Office of Child Protection Services. The Diocese of Savannah will do everything in its power to protect children, to attempt to stop any alleged abuse, and to promote the healing of all the parties affected.

The Diocese adopted the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002. Since that time, over 1,100 safe environment sessions have been given to over 17,300 adult volunteers and employees who work with children in the Diocese.

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