WHEELING - Prosecutors in Philadelphia are continuing to review allegations that Bishop Michael J. Bransfield fondled a Catholic high school student in the 1970s, according to a report published Sunday in a Philadelphia newspaper.
Bransfield, a native of Philadelphia, is the leader of the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. He has denied all accusations.
Local diocesan spokesman Bryan Minor said Monday, "Our stance is that this is old news. Even though these are not new allegations against Bishop Bransfield, this story was still published by the (Philadelphia) Inquirer.
"Regardless of what news is reported or repeated in this matter, the diocese asks the community to please pray for our bishop, our diocese, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and all those affected by sexual abuse in any way," Minor said.
The allegations came to light during a clergy sexual abuse trial involving the Rev. James Brennan held in Philadelphia this spring. In that case, a witness testified that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest who allegedly sexually abused him for years starting in the late 1970s had said a colleague, identified as Bransfield, also had sex with teenage boys.
The accuser, identified only as a 48-year-old man, alleged the abuse took place at the Rev. Stanley Gana's farm in northeastern Pennsylvania and at Bransfield's beach house in New Jersey. Gana and Bransfield are former colleagues.
The testimony came at the trial of Brennan, who was accused in a 1996 child-sex assault.
Bransfield is not charged with any crimes in the case and has never been charged with sexually abusing children. Diocesan officials said the bishop stands by his original response to the allegations.
"I have been deeply saddened by the priest child abuse scandal that has been connected to a handful of my former colleagues and friends from St. Charles Seminary. Over the years, I have felt devastation for both the victims and the church as I learned about the terrible actions they took with innocent victims," Bransfield said.
"To now be unfairly included in that group and to hear the horrific allegations that are being made of me is unbelievable and shocking. As a native of Roxboro, I consider Philadelphia my home. I have openly been an advocate for the eradication of the abusive behavior of priests in every diocese, and have demonstrated this in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, where I now live and serve," Bransfield said. "I have never sexually abused anyone."
Monsignor Kevin Quirk of Wheeling, a canon lawyer who presided over Brennan's 2008 church trial, took the stand in Brennan's criminal trial in Philadelphia. Quirk, an aide to Bransfield, detailed allegations that Brennan sexually assaulted a 14-year-old during a 1996 sleepover at the priest's apartment.
A jury later deadlocked in attempting a decision in Brennan's trial. Prosecutors have not indicated whether they will retry the case.
Meanwhile, Monsignor William Lynn, Brennan's co-defendant, was found guilty last month on child endangering charges. He faces sentencing on July 24 and could receive three and a half to seven years in prison.
Lynn is the first senior official of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States convicted of covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision.