W.Va. bishop denies secondhand abuse claim


WHEELING, W.Va. — Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston said secondhand allegations that he sexually abused a teenage boy are “unbelievable and shocking” as well as completely false.

The accusations against Bishop Bransfield, who was ordained a priest for the Philadelphia Archdiocese, were raised April 18 by a witness at the trial of two Philadelphia priests on sex abuse-related charges. The witness said another Philadelphia priest who has since been removed from ministry told him about the alleged abuse by Bishop Bransfield.

“I have never sexually abused anyone,” said an April 19 statement from the 68-year-old bishop, who has never been charged with any abuse.

He said he understood he was “a public figure and therefore subject to public criticism.” But, he added, “the nature of these statements and the manner in which they were released … go way beyond any sense of fairness and propriety.”

Bishop Bransfield said it is “misleading” to report that Stanley Gana, the former priest who is purported to have made the allegation, admitted abusing a minor at a vacation home owned by the bishop.

“What did not get released was additional information available to the prosecutor that I was not aware of the incident and was not present at the house at the time,” he said. “Gana has confirmed those facts in prior reports.”

The allegations surfaced during the fourth week of the trial of Father James J. Brennan, who is accused of the attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996, and Msgr. William J. Lynn, who is charged with failing to protect children while serving as secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Bishop Bransfield said he had been attending meetings at the Vatican “when this false story about me was publicly released by the media without my knowledge or input.”

“To say I was shocked and saddened would be an understatement,” he added.

The bishop asked for prayers for himself, for Catholics in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and “for all those who have been affected by sexual abuse.”