Bishop Says Alleged Victim Proves Innocence

Charleston Daily Mail
July 23, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. The Roman Catholic bishop of West Virginia wrote in an email to supporters Monday that he is grateful that two men have come forward to defend him against allegations that he sexually abused one of them in the 1970s, and that their assertions provide proof that he's innocent.

In an email to clergy, parishioners and employees of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Bishop Michael Bransfield said he has never abused anyone. The letter also was posted on the diocese website.

It comes after allegations surfaced during a recently completed Philadelphia priest-abuse trial in which a witness testified that a priest who abused him told him that Bransfield was sexually involved with a young teen. The alleged victim and another man told The Philadelphia Inquirer in a story published Sunday ( that the allegations were false.

Bransfield remains under investigation for another claim, which he denies.

"I am very grateful to these two Catholic men, both of whom are in their 50s, who have come forward on these matters," Bransfield wrote. "I am very fortunate that they have come forward 35 years later to defend me."

Bransfield, who has led the West Virginia diocese since 2005, said the men's assertions provide "tangible proof" that the claim made at trial is false.

During the trial, a 48-year-old Philadelphia man testified that the Rev. Stanley Gana raped him at Bransfield's beach house in Brigantine, N.J. Bransfield acknowledged letting Gana, a seminary friend, use the house, but Bransfield said he was not there at the time.

The witness said he once saw Bransfield at Gana's mountain house with a car full of boys. Gana referred to the youngsters as Bransfield's "fair-haired boys" and said Bransfield was having sex with one of them, the witness testified. Gana was defrocked but never criminally charged. A current phone number for Gana could not be found.

In the newspaper report, the alleged victim, Ronald Rock, said nothing inappropriate happened. The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse unless they wish to be identified.

Rock told the newspaper that he and a group of teens persuaded Bransfield to go to his family's cabin in Friendsville, Pa. Bransfield was a young, popular priest who taught history at Lansdale Catholic High School, coached the golf team and the ski club.

"I've talked to my buddies who were with me that weekend," Rock told the paper. "There was no inappropriate anything ... Bransfield was a guy's guy. We would joke about girls. There was no inappropriate anything."

Timothy Love, another Lansdale alum, recalled spending a weekend with Bransfield at Rock's cabin and agreed the priest acted appropriately.

"I am pleased to say this allegation has been put to rest," Bransfield wrote, recalling both men's revelations.

No one answered the phone at a number for Rock called by the AP. Love did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Meanwhile, authorities in Montgomery County, Md., have reopened a 2007 fondling complaint against Bransfield from when he was a teacher at Lansdale.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese said it did not find the complaint credible at the time, and passed it on to Montgomery County authorities, who did not bring charges.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman said Monday that the young man who complained back then was not willing to talk to investigators. She said there was a concern about the statute of limitations, too, because the allegations were decades old, so "we took no further action."

Last month, the case was referred back to her office by the archdiocese.

"We are undertaking that review," she said.

Bransfield said he thought the matter was resolved in 2008 after he received notification "that the allegation had not been substantiated and that steps were to be taken to restore my good reputation."

He reiterated his innocence, saying "I can only repeat what I have stated before publicly: I have never abused anyone."


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