W. Virginia Bishops Says Testimony Debunks Abuse Allegation

Catholic News Agency
July 25, 2012

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston.

Wheeling, W.V., Jul 25, 2012 / 02:14 am (CNA).- Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston says accusations of abuse against him have been disproved, with the alleged victim and another witness coming forward to attest to his innocence.

"I am pleased to be able to say that this allegation has been put to rest," Bishop Bransfield wrote in a July 23 letter, addressing the "false hearsay statements" made against him during the recent trial of Monsignor William Lynn and Father James Brennan.

"Ron Rock, the high school student whom I had allegedly victimized now a prominent Philadelphia businessman has now publicly confirmed that this allegation is completely false," Bishop Bransfield wrote.

"Timothy Love was also with us on that occasion, and he has also confirmed the completely innocent and proper nature of my friendship with them."

The West Virginia bishop said he was "very grateful to these two Catholic men" for coming forward to defend him against allegations raised during the Philadelphia trial. Their statements, he said, "provide tangible proof that the hearsay allegation made at the trial is false."

"I am very fortunate that they have come forward 35 years later to defend me," Bishop Bransfield wrote, noting the harm the accusations had inflicted on his family members and the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

During the recently-concluded trial in Philadelphia, it was claimed that Bishop Bransfield engaged in improper conduct with a student at a farm outside Philadelphia in the 1970s, during his years as a priest.

The charge was made by a prosecution witness who did not claim to have direct knowledge of the alleged abuse by the future bishop. Rather, the witness said the information was told to him by another priest, Father Stanley Gana, whom he said was sexually abusing him at the time.

But Ron Rock, the man Bishop Bransfield was said to have abused, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that nothing inappropriate took place between himself and the future bishop.

"I've talked to my buddies who were with me that weekend," Rock told the paper, in comments published July 23. The future Bishop Bransfield, he said, "was a guy's guy. We would joke about girls. There was no inappropriate anything."

Rock told the Inquirer that Bishop Bransfield, who presided at his marriage and the baptism of his children, was "a great family friend."

Timothy Love, who was said to have been present during the time of the alleged abuse, confirmed to the paper that the priest had done nothing inappropriate.

During the recent court testimony in Philadelphia, a different accusation surfaced against Bishop Bransfield, which he also maintains is false. That allegation of improper conduct, made by a former Lansdale Catholic High School student, was already investigated and dismissed after surfacing in 2007.

The suspicion involving the student was reported to the Distinct Attorney, who brought no charges against Bishop Bransfield. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia also conducted a full investigation, including interviews of the bishop, the accuser, and students who attended the school at the time.

"At the conclusion of the investigation, I was formally notified that the allegation had not been substantiated and that steps were to be taken to restore my good reputation. I was very thankful to have this matter resolved or so I thought in 2008."

With this previously-dismissed accusation drawing new attention, the Wheeling-Charleston bishop said he could "only repeat what I have stated before publicly: I have never abused anyone."

In an earlier statement about the allegations raised in the Philadelphia trial, Bishop Bransfield said he has "openly been an advocate for the eradication of the abusive behavior of priests in every diocese," and had "demonstrated this in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, where I now live and serve."


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