Allegations of abuse disproved

Dear Editor:

I have written 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 Catholic people of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and those of other faith traditions here in West Virginia. 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 today.

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, was 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 the priests and people of the Diocese. I know that this has been a moment of confusion and worry. 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 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