A Letter from Bishop Bransfield
Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston
July 23, 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I have written to you previously about the false hearsay statements made against me in the recent trial in Philadelphia. At the time, I was concerned because of the harm these statements inflicted on my reputation and on the feelings of those around me, especially my family members and you, the wonderful people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
In recent days, reports have also appeared about an allegation made against me in 2007 by an individual who was a student at Lansdale Catholic High School during my early years of priesthood in the 1970s.
As you can imagine, these past three months have been very difficult for me. Perhaps the most difficult part for me was being unable to defend myself or respond in any constructive way. And so, I decided to write to you.
Fortunately, others have stepped forward to provide tangible proof that the hearsay allegation made at the trial is false. The allegation is confusing, but this is what was said at the trial: a victim of abuse by another priest testified that that priest had said (presumably to justify his own actions) that I had engaged in improper conduct with a high school student who, together with other students, were with me on a specific occasion at that priest’s farm outside Philadelphia in the 1970s. The witness did not purport to have any knowledge of any improper conduct. He was repeating what he recalls being told by the man who was abusing him. I am pleased to be able to say that this allegation has been put to rest. 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. 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. I am very grateful to these two Catholic men, both of whom are in their 50s, who have come forward on these matters. I am very fortunate that they have come forward 35 years later to defend me.
At the trial, the prosecuting attorney also made reference to an allegation of improper conduct that had been made by a former student at Lansdale Catholic in 2007. This allegation, which also dated back to the 1970s, was immediately reported to the District Attorney. No charges were brought. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia also conducted a full investigation of the allegation at the time the allegation was received. The investigation included interviews of me, the accuser and others who were at Lansdale Catholic at the time in question. 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. But now the allegation has resurfaced and been reported in the press once again. I can only repeat what I have stated before publicly: I have never abused anyone.
During these long weeks, I have been concerned for you, the priests and people of the Diocese. I know that this has been a moment of confusion and worry for you. I have been concerned for my family members, especially those who live in Philadelphia and have been confronted with these stories in the local press during the past several weeks. As you can imagine, this has been a very difficult time for them. And, I have been concerned for my friends, who have had to read these stories in the newspapers.
The priests and people of our Diocese have been wonderful to me in so many ways. I have received an outpouring of support and prayers during these months. Many have sent me beautiful cards and notes of support; people have come up to me in public to offer me a kind word of support and reassurance, even just to shake my hand and say they are praying for me. As your Bishop, I want you to know that these wonderful acts of kindness mean a great deal to me.
I ask you to continue to pray for me. Your prayers mean a great deal to me and are a wonderful source of consolation. I want you to be assured that I am praying for you, and for our priests, and religious. At the same time, I ask you to join me in prayer for all those who have been affected by sexual abuse.
Entrusting you and your families to the care of Our Lady, Help of Christians, I am,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Michael J. Bransfield
Bishop of Wheeling-Charleston
W.Va. Catholic bishop says alleged victim who came forward to support him proves innocence
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
July 23, 2012 – 6:24 pm EDT
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 (http://bit.ly/LJE9rx) 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.”
(Story distributed by The Associated Press)
Philadelphia man denies sex abuse by W.Va. bishop
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Philadelphia man denies that Bishop Michael Bransfield sexually abused him when he was a teenager in the late 1970s, according to a statement issued by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston on Monday.
A man who alleged abuse by Stanley Gana, a former Philadelphia priest, testified in the city’s Court of Common Pleas in April that Gana claimed Bransfield was having sex with a young boy.
The man testified he was on Gana’s farm in upstate New York when Bransfield pulled up in a truck with several teenage boys inside. The man said Gana told him then-Rev. Bransfield had a sexual relationship with a teenage boy in his passenger seat.
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston identified the boy in the passenger seat as Ronald Rock, a Philadelphia business executive, according to a statement. Rock was a Lansdale Catholic High School student at the time.
Rock said in the statement that Bransfield was “a guy’s guy … there was no inappropriate anything.”
Bransfield, a former teacher at Lansdale Catholic, had been invited by Rock and a group of friends to a cabin Rock’s family owned near Gana’s farm.
Tim Love, another former student who had gone to the cabin that weekend, also confirmed no sexual abuse occurred, the statement said.
Bishop Bransfield, 68, a native of Philadelphia, was formerly a priest in the city’s archdiocese. Grand juries in 2005 and 2011 said the church failed to stop the widespread abuse of children by its clergy. Bransfield was named the bishop for the West Virginia diocese in 2004. Bransfield has not been charged with a crime.
He denied abusing children in a statement on the diocese’s website. He said he was “deeply saddened” by the allegation because he’s an advocate for ending abuse.
“To be now unfairly included in that group and to hear the horrific allegations that are being made of me is unbelievable and shocking,” he said. “I have never sexually abused anyone.”