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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (ChurchMilitant.com) - An unfiled lawsuit is accusing Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS) of covering up ritual abuse, rape and coerced abortion at the hands of its former chaplain. The allegations implicate late president Fr. Michael Scanlan and current president Fr. David Pivonka, among others.
According to the 79-page leaked draft complaint obtained by Church Militant, the victim accused her abuser, Fr. David Morrier, as well as Fr. Joseph Loizzo, provincial Fr. Richard Davis and the university, of pressuring her into silence when she tried to report her abuse. The named priests are all Franciscans of the Third Order Regular.
The unfiled complaint was prepared as part of settlement negotiations earlier this year between the victim and the university. The settlement, whose details remain confidential, was reached in July.
The document details at length the victim's relationship with Morrier, former chaplain of FUS and campus minister for student life, whom she first met in 2007 when she was 18 years old.
Morrier would eventually become her spiritual mentor, encouraging her to undergo deliverance prayer sessions to heal past sexual trauma inflicted on her by her father.
According to the draft complaint, the prayer sessions grew increasingly intense and intimate, as Morrier encouraged the victim to detail her sexual abuse in explicit terms.
"While giving her accounts, often crying, Morrier would physically move close to Plaintiff as she recited the details of her sexual assaults, holding her hands, and giving her face-to-face, lingering hugs," the lawsuit states.
In 2010, the victim was taken to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to undergo an exorcism:
A Clement Machado (who was not known to Plaintiff at the time) officiated the September 9, 2010 exorcism in Pittsburgh, PA, and was later identified by Morrier as a "Rome-trained exorcist." ...
Plaintiff was required to remove her clothes (except for her T-shirt and shorts as had been the practice with prior "Deliverance Ministries" and exorcisms in Steubenville, OH), so that the group could see the cuts and scars on her body — which Morrier claimed to be evidence of possession, and not only was Plaintiff sprayed with holy water and "drenched", Plaintiff was also physically restrained and held down by males in attendance, with Machado placing a crucifix under Plaintiff's T-shirt on her bare chest and behind her back, while having her recite sexual obscenities (which also became routine with deliverance sessions and exorcisms in Steubenville, OH, thereafter).
Church Militant reported on Machado in 2018, after he abruptly resigned from his post in Memphis, Tennessee following a Vatican-led investigation. The article noted Machado "was the subject of a 2016 advisory posted on the USCCB website ... regarding 'numerous complaints' involving his conducting of exorcisms."
"Some complaints, on the other hand, involved Machado's alleged pre-Memphis practice of collecting large donations to sustain his exorcism ministry," the report continues. "Some complained that he perpetrated financial fraud upon individuals and families."
The victim underwent three more exorcisms at FUS with Morrier, where similar practices occurred. Those sessions also allegedly included the late FUS president Fr. Michael Scanlan and male members of the charismatic Community of God's Love. One of the sessions was reportedly so intense that she "hit her head against the wall while being restrained" and "was believed to have suffered a concussion."
The sessions then turned private, with Morrier eventually asking the victim to take off her clothes while he would touch her private parts, "telling Plaintiff that his touch is healing those parts of her body — which had 'demonic handles' that 'aided' in her possession of demons."
"During confessions, Morrier would frequently masturbate while having Plaintiff recount, over and over, the past abuse by her father," according to the draft complaint.
He would eventually start having sex with her. "Plaintiff had become under his complete mental control," the document notes, going on to reveal that at times he would penetrate her "using a crucifix."
The victim denies any of the physical relations were consensual.
In 2011, the victim became pregnant by Morrier. Fearing exposure would "ruin his life," he allegedly ordered her to get an abortion, which she did in Philadelphia a week before Christmas 2011.
The victim sought Fr. Scanlan's help in confession in 2010, telling him Morrier had raped her. According to the lawsuit,
Scanlan put his hand on Plaintiff's shoulder, told her that he knew Morrier was a "broken man," but that it was she who needed to practice "emotional chastity" in her relationship with Morrier — implying that there was nothing wrong with what Morrier was doing — and implying he fully agreed that Plaintiff was possessed by demons.
The document alleges the victim then turned to FUS President Fr. David Pivonka for help, but his response to her was simply, "I'll pray for you."
After a failed suicide attempt in 2013, she went to university chaplain Fr. Shawn Roberson to detail Morrier's abuse. Roberson reportedly interrupted her and said Fr. Morrier would likely have a different story, "so instead of sitting here gossiping, which is a sin, why don't we focus on why we are here and that is you and your problems."
Two days later, Morrier met with the victim and said, "Go ahead and tell someone. Who are they going to believe? The poor priest who is doing everything to help you, or the possessed girl?"
In May 2013, Morrier was transferred out of Steubenville "for personal reasons." His order claims it was unaware of any sexual misconduct allegations at the time.
That November, Fr. Loizzo wrote a letter to Fr. Davis detailing information about Fr. Morrier's deliverance ministry sessions with the victim, calling his ministry a "cult" in which Morrier "controlled and coerced her into believing that she was possessed fully when she really was not at all."
The complaint states that, despite confirming the psychological abuse inflicted on the victim (although she had not yet reported the sexual abuse to either Loizzo or Davis), she learned that Morrier had been assigned parochial vicar at a church in Arlington, Texas that year.
It was not until spring 2014 that the victim fully revealed Morrier's sexual abuse to Loizzo. He reportedly advised her to keep that information private because exposure could be harmful to FUS and to her personally.
The university claims it banned Morrier from campus in 2014.
The next year, leadership urged her to sign a settlement agreement in which the school agreed to provide financial support as long as she agreed to remain silent about the abuse and did not hire an attorney.
The draft complaint accuses leadership of taking advantage of her psychological vulnerability to pressure her to sign "the fraudulently induced settlement agreement."
On April 7, 2021, Morrier was indicted by a grand jury on one count of rape and two counts of sexual battery.
Nearly a year later, on March 12, 2022, Fr. Morrier pled guilty to sexual battery in exchange for five years' probation and no jail time. He is also required to register for life as a sex offender.
The victim, who spoke in court, agreed to the plea deal because her only desire "was to be able to prevent him from hurting anyone else."
She read her six-page victim statement (set forth in full below) in court, which included various responses she received each time she sought help at FUS:
The university issued a statement at the time about Morrier's guilty plea: "We are sorry, saddened, and angered by the harm Father Morrier has caused. The University prays for peace and healing for the victim in this heartbreaking situation."
The statement goes on to claim that the "University's Title IX Coordinator was first notified of the sexual abuse allegations in 2015, after which the University met with the victim, advised her of her right to an investigation and resolution under the University's Title IX policy, and offered to assist her in reporting to police."
The statement omits any mention of school leadership being made aware of Fr. Morrier's abuse in 2013, as the victim reported. The statement also appears to contradict its own claim that the school banned Morrier in 2014.
The Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, Sacred Heart Province, also issued a statement noting that since 2015, Morrier "has resided at the Province's retirement facility where he has been supervised and not permitted to engage in public ministry."
In response to a request for comment, Franciscan University wrote, "The Settlement Agreement is confidential, by agreement of the parties, and we have no further comment beyond the statement in the Historical Review Report, which is available here."
The victim's statement is set forth in full below.
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