Witness in Philadelphia implicates West Virginia bishop — UPDATED

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

A Philadelphia man told a jury today that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest who allegedly sexually abused him for years starting the late 1970s had said a colleague who is now a bishop in West Virginia also had sex with teenage boys.

The 48-year-old witness, identified only as “John” in the 2005 report of the Philadelphia County grand jury, described a meeting one summer in high school where he spent summers at the Rev. Stanley Gana’s 110-acre farm in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

He said he was building a flagstone wall when a car pulled up driven by then-Rev. Michael J. Bransfield and containing several teenage boys.

Bransfield is now bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

“They’re his fair-haired boys,” the witness said Gana told him after the brief visit ended. “The one in the front seat he is having sex with.”

The witness said Gana and Bransfield were close friends and that he had been sexually abused by Gana during a visit to Bransfield’s beach house in Brigantine, N.J.

Bransfield has never been charged with sexually assaulting any children although his friendship with Gana is mentioned in the 2005 grand jury report of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese.

Bransfield, a native of Philadelphia, was ordained at about the same time as Gana by the late Cardinal John Krol.

Peter F. Vaira, a veteran Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer who represents the West Virginia diocese, said he could not comment about today’s court testimony.

Bryan Minor, spokesman for Bransfield, said he also could not comment.

“We’re getting testimony from the media,” Minor said. “Until we get the facts it’s impossible for us to deal with rumors.”

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UPDATE: The AP has some initial reaction from West Virginia:

Monsignor Edward Sadie, rector of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston, said he finds the allegations against Bishop Michael Bransfield “impossible to believe.”

“Everything I know about him, he’s a perfect gentlemen and he’s been very thorough in seeing to it that we observe all the (child protection) procedures that come up,” Sadie said…

…Bryan Minor, spokesman for the statewide Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, said diocese officials learned of the allegations through media reports.

“Until such time that the facts and issues surrounding this testimony are made fully known to the diocese, we cannot comment,” he said in an email. “However, this is certainly an opportunity for us — as a church — to remember all victims of sexual abuse and to pray for them and their families.”

UPDATE II: On Thursday, the bishop has released a statement of his own:

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.

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.

I have never sexually abused anyone.

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