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Second Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Filed Against Former bishop Michael Bransfield

WHEELING — A second lawsuit alleging sexual harassment by former bishop Michael Bransfield has been filed in Ohio County Circuit Court.

Attorney Robert Warner of Charleston filed the complaint in mid-September on behalf of a client identified only as V.G.D., a recent seminarian in the diocese. Warner filed and later settled a similar lawsuit earlier this year for client J.E., also a young seminarian who served as Bransfield’s secretary.

Both lawsuits allege incidents of sexual harassment by Bransfield and call out the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston for negligence in reporting allegations of sexual misconduct by those associated with the church.

“We cannot comment on pending litigation, but we do plan to address the suit in the proper forum,” diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop said.

Warner did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

The filing states that in 2015, V.G.D. — just out of college — realized he had a desire to become a priest. He reached out to Monsignor Paul A. Hudock, then vocational director of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

“Upon information and belief, Msgr. Hudock formerly served as the personal secretary to Bishop Bransfield and was aware of his proclivity as a sexual predator,” the filing alleges. “Msgr. Hudock arranged an interview of V.G.D. with … Bransfield to discuss V.G.D.’s interest in attending seminary school.”

Bransfield showed a heightened interest in V.G.D.’s application to seminary school when they met, personally interviewing him and requesting his cellphone number where he could call or text him, according to the complaint.

V.G.D. went on to study at The Catholic University of America, where he was provided a residence within the seminarian dormitory across from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston paid for his schooling, cafeteria service and health insurance, and he received a monthly living allowance from the Diocese. Following a visit by Bransfield, V.G.D. later was provided a free vehicle and car insurance, according to the filing.

V.G.D. is described in the complaint as being “extremely impressionable” and “docile” before other clergy in the diocese, especially Bransfield.

In December 2017, Bransfield’s personal secretaries were removed from him, and V.G.D. was asked to drive Bransfield from Washington, D.C., to the Priestfield Pastoral Center in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.

During the drive, the complaint states, Bransfield removed his seat belt, then turned around to retrieve his tablet from the back seat of the vehicle. While kneeling on the front seat, “Bransfield was awkwardly and inappropriately presenting his bent-over buttocks to V.G.D.” as V.G.D. continued to drive the vehicle, according to the filing.

After they reached their destination, Bransfield reportedly served V.G.D. alcohol, and then Bransfield’s personal chef came to the center to cook them a private dinner.

“Bishop Bransfield repeatedly and inappropriately touched, caressed and stroked V.G.D., kissing him on the face and mouth,” the complaint states. “V.G.D. was also asked by Bransfield to handle his dirty laundry.”

In March 2018, Monsignor Kevin Quirk communicated to V.G.D. that Bransfield requested he come to Wheeling for the weekend of March 17-18 and serve Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. V.G.D. agreed to come for a daytime visit, then Quirk told him Bransfield wanted him to stay overnight at his home/parsonage at 52 Elmwood.

While at the parsonage, “V.G.D. was plied with alcohol, touched inappropriately, kissed and subjected to pornographic images at the insistence of Bishop Bransfield,” according to the lawsuit.

The events allegedly were repeated later in the month when V.G.D. returned to Wheeling to receive his Candidacy, a ceremony on the path to priesthood.

In May 2018, V.G.D. received another invitation to stay with Bransfield in Wheeling but declined based on his past experiences. Quirk directed his superior to impress upon him the request “was not actually a request … it was basically an expectation,” the filing states.

In September 2018, Bransfield submitted to Pope Francis his resignation as bishop. The resignation came five days prior to Bransfield’s 75th birthday, when clergy are expected to offer retirement.

An investigation by the diocese into alleged sexual harassment and abuses by Bransfield ensued.

“Despite the public invitation by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston inviting anyone who has been victimized by a priest to report their experiences, V.G.D. has been met with hostility in his attempts to communicate with the investigator regarding the abuse he suffered at the hands of Bishop Bransfield,” the complaint states. V.G.D. approached William Lori, the archbishop of Baltimore who oversaw the diocese after Bransfield’s departure, in Wheeling about setting up a meeting to discuss his experiences.

“The meeting to discuss needed and promised healing never occurred,” according to the complaint.

The suit states V.G.D. later was approached by Quirk while celebrating Mass and allegedly was told not to talk to Lori.

V.G.D. has since requested a year of discernment away from the seminary.

The complaint states Bransfield often gave generous amounts of cash and gifts to those who were influential in the Catholic Church, and he drew upon diocesan funds to do this.

The diocese receives annual revenue from oil-rich land in Texas donated to the diocese more than a century ago, the complaint states. Yearly revenue from the land averages about $15 million and has funded an endowment now valued at $230 million.

Bransfield treated this fund “largely as his own, having been quoted on many occasions as saying, ‘I own this,'” according to the lawsuit.

V.G.D. went on to study at The Catholic University of America, where he was provided a residence within the seminarian dormitory across from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston paid for his schooling, cafeteria service and health insurance, and he received a monthly living allowance from the diocese. Following a visit by Bransfield, V.G.D. later was provided a free vehicle and car insurance, according to the filing.

V.G.D. is described in the complaint as being “extremely impressionable” and “docile” before other clergy in the diocese — especially Bransfield.

In December 2017, Bransfield’s personal secretaries were removed from him, and V.G.D. was asked to drive Bransfield from Washington, D.C., to the Priestfield Pastoral Center in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.

During the drive, the complaint states, Bransfield removed his seat belt, then turned around to retrieve his tablet from the back seat of the vehicle. While kneeling on the front seat, “Bransfield was awkwardly and inappropriately presenting his bent-over buttocks to V.G.D.” as V.G.D. continued to drive the vehicle, according to the filing.

After they reached their destination, Bransfield reportedly served V.G.D. alcohol, and then Bransfield’s personal chef came to the center to cook them a private dinner.

“Bishop Bransfield repeatedly and inappropriately touched, caressed and stroked V.G.D., kissing him on the face and mouth,” the complaint states. “V.G.D. was also asked by Bransfield to handle his dirty laundry.”

In March 2018, Monsignor Kevin Quirk communicated to V.G.D. that Bransfield requested he come to Wheeling for the weekend of March 17-18 and serve Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. V.G.D. agreed to come for a daytime visit, then Quirk told him Bransfield wanted him to stay overnight at his home/parsonage at 52 Elmwood.

While at the parsonage, “V.G.D. was plied with alcohol, touched inappropriately, kissed and subjected to pornographic images at the insistence of Bishop Bransfield,” according to the lawsuit.

The events allegedly were repeated later in the month when V.G.D. returned to Wheeling to receive his Candidacy, a ceremony on the path to priesthood.

In May 2018, V.G.D. received another invitation to stay with Bransfield in Wheeling but declined based on his past experiences. Quirk directed V.G.D.’s superior to impress upon him the request “was not actually a request … it was basically an expectation,” the filing states.

In September 2018, Bransfield submitted to Pope Francis his resignation as bishop. The resignation came five days prior to Bransfield’s 75th birthday, when clergy are expected to offer retirement. An investigation by the diocese into alleged sexual harassment and abuses by Bransfield ensued.

“Despite the public invitation by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston inviting anyone who has been victimized by a priest to report their experiences, V.G.D. has been met with hostility in his attempts to communicate with the investigator regarding the abuse he suffered at the hands of Bishop Bransfield,” the complaint states. V.G.D. approached William Lori, the archbishop of Baltimore who oversaw the diocese after Bransfield’s departure, in Wheeling about setting up a meeting to discuss his experiences.

“The meeting to discuss needed and promised healing never occurred,” according to the complaint.

The suit states V.G.D. later was approached by Quirk while celebrating Mass and allegedly was told not to talk to Lori.

V.G.D. has since requested a year of discernment away from the seminary.

The complaint states Bransfield often gave generous amounts of cash and gifts to those who were influential in the Catholic Church, and he drew upon diocesan funds to do this.

The diocese receives annual revenue from oil-rich land in Texas donated more than a century ago, the complaint states. Yearly revenue from the land averages about $15 million and has funded an endowment now valued at $230 million. Bransfield treated this fund “largely as his own, having been quoted on many occasions as saying, ‘I own this,'” according to the lawsuit.

Attempts to reach Bransfield Monday were unsuccessful.

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