Attorney General Wants Review of Bransfield Sexual Harassment Allegations

WHEELING — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wants to review allegations of sexual harassment levied against the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, the newly-named apostolic administrator of the diocese, “is emphasizing the importance of this investigation being lay-led,” diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop said today.

“The archbishop is very adamant that this investigation be lay-led. I think he is committed that this investigation gets to the truth and as expeditiously as possible,” Bishop said, adding that Lori will oversee the work.

Bishop said he thinks Lori’s insistence that the investigation of Bransfield be led by laity — “experts in their own fields” — serves “as an example to the Church in the United States.”

Pope Francis accepted Bransfield’s resignation as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston and ordered an investigation of allegations that Bransfield sexually harassed adults, church officials said Thursday.

As required by canon law, Bransfield offered to retire upon reaching the age of 75 last Saturday.

Under canon law, the Pope then decides when to accept a bishop’s resignation.

Pope Francis also appointed Lori as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and ordered him to investigate the allegations against Bransfield.

Morrisey, in a statement issued Thursday, said, “The allegations against Bishop Bransfield are disturbing and warrant a close review by the state of West Virginia to ensure that West Virginians are protected.

“My office will be closely reviewing this matter to determine how best we can protect West Virginians who might have been victims in this scandal,” Morrisey said. “We have reached out to the diocese and expect they will be fully cooperative in efforts to get to the bottom of these matters.”

In response, the diocesan spokesman said today, “At the present time, this is solely a canonical matter. We are unaware of any criminal investigation taking place at this time, but we would cooperate fully in any such review.”

The diocese has established a hotline for those wishing to share any information related to the investigation. The hotline number is 1-833-272-4225.

Lori arrived in Wheeling Thursday to meet with clergy and lay leaders of the diocese. The meetings are continuing today.

“We had some great meetings yesterday afternoon and more today,” the diocesan spokesman said. “The archbishop will have a prayer service with our staff later this afternoon.”

The archbishop also will celebrate Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling at 6 p.m. Saturday, the spokesman said. He will stay in the city through Saturday.

Lori, who will remain archbishop of Baltimore, will serve as apostolic administrator until the appointment and installation of a new bishop.

Bransfield, who had served as bishop for 13 years, could not be reached for comment on the matter.

“Bishop Bransfield has been instructed to live outside the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston pending the investigation,” the diocesan spokesman said. “I am not aware of his whereabouts or any contact information.”

Details of the alleged sexual harassment have not been revealed, but it is not the first time that Bransfield has been accused of sexual misconduct. However, he has never been prosecuted on any charges.

The Catholic News Agency noted accusations of abuse against Bransfield arose in 2012 during the criminal trial in Philadelphia of the Rev. James Brennan on sex abuse charges and of Msgr. William Lynn for conspiracy and endangerment.

In that case, two witnesses and a prosecutor alleged Bransfield “may have known about sexual misconduct by [another priest] or abused minors himself,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The Catholic News Agency said the witnesses claimed they were sexually abused as teens by the Rev. Stanley Gana, according to Philadelphia grand jury reports in 2005 and 2011. The 2005 report alleged that “Gana demanded and received” a sexual act at Bransfield’s beach house in Brigantine, New Jersey.

Bransfield denied the allegations made against him in 2012.

“To now be unfairly included in that group and to hear the horrific allegations that are being made of me is unbelievable and shocking … the nature of these statements and the manner in which they were released … go way beyond any sense of fairness and propriety,” he said on April 19, 2012.

Bransfield also contended the witnesses’ statement regarding abuse by Gana at the beach house was “misleading” because it failed to mention that he allowed many people to use his home and he was neither present nor aware of the incident.

COMMENTS