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.”

Read more.

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.

Read it all.

  • Drake

    This trial has been sad and shocking. Cardinals Bevilacqua and Rigali have come off very badly concerning the cover-ups and not pursuing the child abusers. Most of those under them have used the Nuremberg defense, of only following orders, or “not my responsibility.” A culture of shaming and shunning a nun who was trying to bring abuse to light. It astounds me that the US Bishops have only adopted “voluntary guidelines” and do not have the courage to denounce a bishop who is not instituting the most strict protections against child abuse. What gives here? Cardinal Justin Rigali was busy fighting against same sex marriage with proposed amendments to the US Constitution and denouncing the healthcare reforms. All this incorporation of civil politics into the Church has been a diversion from the true work and responsibilities of the bishops, to clean their own houses and to lead lawfully. This huge political effort of the bishops by rallying against so many political issues is a huge diversion from fixing the messes within our Church. Yet, so many of the hierarchy have denounced the civil authorities pursuing these cases as “enemies of the Church”. I think that too many of the true enemies of good and the Church are wearing golden mitres.

  • Jack B. Nimble

    Despite instances of triumphalism and hostility (toward mainline Protestants) evidenced by the choice of articles posted here at Patheos and by the good Deacon, I ‘ll preface my remarks by saying this: Your church has done, and continues to do great good. I speak of the religious women, and the lay workers in charities and social outreach, and the work with the marginalized, the poor and forgotten all over the world. But as an Anglican I see rottenness in the hierarchy. Some traditionalist Catholics have similarly blogged on that point.

    There is a network of deeply closeted hierarchs (and priests) who have ignored their vows and pursued adolescent males. Some in the Vatican have either abetted this or turned a blind eye. Thus, when Catholics become purse-lipped critics of my Communion, all smug and “one true churchy”, I respond with: “Clean up your own act, and look at the lumber in your own eye, and not the speck in ours”. If that sounds hostile let me end by saying I hope you do root out these problem clerics and sail on to better things.

  • friscoeddie

    Since when is testimony under oath in a public court a rumor? Could be un-true but never rumor. Get him another PR person at least.

  • Kurt

    As I Catholic, I thank you for that fraternal correction. God bless you and the Christians of the Anglican Communion.

  • cathyf

    It’s hearsay and should never have been allowed — even if the story is absolutely true that Gana MADE THE CLAIM to the witness, the witness has no actual knowledge as to the truth or falseness of the claim.

    Of course that only matters in a world where the truth of any particular claim is of interest to anyone, as opposed to the world where you judge whether an accusation is true or false by knowing what the accused person’s job is.

  • pagansister

    Rotten stuff is still coming out of the Church’s woodwork apparently. Totally sad.

  • Eugene Pagano

    There may be more on this tomorrow. Rocco’s Twitter feed has the following:

    “Wheeling Chancery to make statement tomorrow on Philly abuse trial testimony re: +Bransfield; bishop in Rome this wk on church business”

  • LaVallette

    “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.”

    And this “hearsay” evidence was admitted in a Court of Law??? It should have been immediately struck out by the judge. Unless of course it is niow permissible to throw out the rules of evidence when it comes to issues involving the Catholic Church or its personnel?

  • Eugene Pagano

    I am a lawyer, and agree the statement about Fr. Bransfield is hearsay. However, there are a number of exceptions to the general exclusion of hearsay, especially in a case where there is a charge of conspiracy. Msgr. Lynn is under indictment for conspiracy.

    I can’t tell from the news reports to whether any of the exceptions apply, but the defendants seem to have vigorous lawyers. Those defense lawyers surely objected if there was any basis for refusing to allow the hearsay

  • http://ad-orientem.blogspot.com Ad Orientem

    The Pope needs to send a telegram to the bishop in question with one sentence… “Is this substantially true?” If the response requires more than two letters it should be a letter of resignation.

  • http://egregioustwaddle.blogspot.com/ Joanne K McPortland

    This all came up because Bp Bransfield refused to allow Msgr Quirk, now his assistant, to answer a subpoena to testify. (He was one of the 3 chancery officials who heard testimony against defendant Fr Brennan when allegations were first made.) In making that refusal known to the judge, Bp Bransfield’s name came up.

  • Michael Skiendzielewski

    That first summer at the farm, Berkery (the victim) stayed there with his parents and two younger brothers. His father was an unemployed maintenance man. Father Gana would sexually abuse Mark Berkery in the priest’s upstairs bedroom while his parents slept in a downstairs bedroom.

    I am so sad that Mark had to endure such evil, torment and violation by someone the family put their total trust and faith in. How could such criminal conduct go on for such an extended period of time in an institution that is dedicated to following the teachings of Jesus Christ?

    I really cannot understand how a person can survive such a “reign of terror.”

    It is understandable that Mark would make such a statement: “I Have an Emptiness Where My Soul Used To Be”

  • http://balancingtheledger.blogspot.com/ Joe Cleary

    While I am sure in this day and age a bishop would run to run any response by a lawyer ,
    how long should it take to deny this categorically?

  • Judy Jones

    These victims who are testifying are very brave, and hopefully the full truth will be exposed about those who commit sex crimes against kids and all who cover up these crimes.

    Until those responsible are held accountable, nothing changes and kids still are not safe today.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director

  • George

    If you have dealt with your local parish priests in the past 30 years, it is not hard to believe that a large majority of them are homosexual and on the down-low. I had one priest tell me that the vow of chastity only applied to male-female relationships and not male-male relationships.

  • Mark Greta

    If Catholic leadership has knowledge of any act between a priest and anyone else, man, woman, or child, it would be good to have them removed from the Church now. I would include those with known sexual deviant desires. I also think that anyone who has knowledge should bring it forward now. In baseball, you don’t have to be the one involved in gambling, all you have to have is information about gamblers involved in illegal activity. If you don’t, you are thrown out with those involved. No one can tell me that those with strong same sex attractions and other perverted desires are not well known. They are a ticking time bomb. Get them out and clean up the mess.

    With the battles we are having on religious freedom, stopping the holocasut, protecting the family, and a host of other issues, we need to have the Bishops cleared and engaged. We also need them to root out strong dissent in the Chuch as witnessed by the priests in Seatlle who told the Bishop no on a direct request on petitions. Having perverts and those who cover for them gives the pro abortion and pro gay marriage crowd an excuse.

  • kenneth

    A culture of child predation does not give anyone an “excuse.” It demonstrates that bishops complacent in such things have no moral compass whatsoever and therefore no authority to pronounce on matters of morality and certainly no authority to speak in Christ’s name.

  • kenneth

    Rotten stuff will continue to come out of the woodwork for a long, long time because the culture that produced it has not changed.

  • Catherine

    You do not sound hostile to me, Jack. You are merely stating facts that Catholics would do well to ponder.

  • TomKumar

    This story is heartbreaking—- and untrue!

  • Fiergenholt

    It was a very wise woman-religious who clued me in on all of this years ago when she told me once: “If you have a solid understanding of what celibacy demands of you, then whether you are “gay” or “straight” makes no difference at all.”

    For many MANY years, whether they were active or not, the priesthood attracted homosexual men. It was a safe/ non-threatening career/ life-style. No surprise that the percentage of men with homosexual orientations iwas — during an earlier era — higher in the priesthood than in any other professional career field.

    BUT today I am not so sure that homosexual men can “thrive” in that priestly environment anymore. Part of it is the strong psychological pre-admission screenings that both priests and deacons have to endure in this “post-Dallas” era.

    AND a lot of everyday folks have strongly developed senses of “Gay-Dar” — the ability to detect homosexual men or lesbian women even when there are no really obvious clues. I have seen a lot of everyday folk turn away from being active in their parishes because they did not want to associate with priests that they suspect were homosexually oriented.

  • George

    @ TomKumar – Just curious, how do you know it’s ‘untrue’. Do you have inside information?

    The Wheeling-Charleston Diocese left this comment in response to the allegations:

    “The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston will issue a statement Thursday afternoon, April 19, regarding the testimony heard today during legal proceedings in Philadelphia.”

  • cathyf

    Just from the plain meaning of the testimony, this is straight down the middle as to why hearsay is not allowed. The witness had no way of knowing if Gana knew it was false and was lying to him, or if Gana didn’t know one way or another and just made it up. Gana’s statement was that of an abuser to his victim — and Gana clearly had a very strong motive to either lie or invent in this circumstance. Because by convincing his victim that the sort of abuse that he was suffering was commonplace and no big deal, he would naturally cause his victim to be less likely to take some action that would end the abuse. And by convincing himself that the abuse he was committing was commonplace and no big deal, he would deceive himself as to the evil of his own actions.

    In our legal system this sort of evidence can only rightly be used as something to further investigate. Like tracking down the young men and asking them if there was anything to Gana’s accusation. And if the young men were unable to be located, or there was no other way to determine the truth or falseness of the accusations, then simple justice demands that the accusations be kept secret.

  • Fr. Matheus

    Here is a respond by Bishop Bransfield just being released to the public few minutes ago.
    http://www.dwc.org/component/content/article/189-latest-news/1254-a-statement-from-bishop-michael-j-bransfield.html

  • Pingback: West Virginia bishop: “I have never sexually abused anyone”

  • cathyf

    “If Catholic leadership has knowledge of any act between a priest and anyone else, man, woman, or child, it would be good to have them removed from the Church now.”

    Well that’s a bit overstated — we have some married priests, and I hope that no one is terribly surprised that a married priest is engaging in “acts” with the woman who is his wife.

    And, quite frankly, removing a priest from ministry — or from the CHURCH! — as you suggest when he is guilty of adultery with an adult woman is totally against Christian belief. When a priest breaks his vows with an adult woman it is certainly a grave sin, but Christ died for the forgiveness of sins, and I expect that a priest who has sinned gravely will repent, confess, and do better in the future, just like I would expect of you or me or anybody else. With pedophilia or homosexuality, the problem is that this is disordered. Adult heterosexual conduct is sinful only when it occurs outside of marriage; it is not inherently sinful.

    If the new rule is going to be that heterosexuals are going to be thrown out of the Church, it’s going to get pretty lonely in there!

  • Ty

    Perhaps priests should wear identifications badges: I am a chaste homosexual; I am a chaste heterosexual; I am a married priest; I recently broke my vow of celibacy. There should be no question of shame or privacy attached to these badges because the priest serves the Church. Chaste homosexual priests are to be applauded. Priests who break the vow of celibacy are sinners, just like us, and involving another person in their sin; and if we see them wearing that badge repeatedly, then we know where we are.

  • Pam

    Jesus had very little to day about things of a sexual nature
    yet the Church tends to focus on these issues much more
    than the things that He often spoke about. He was more about
    healing the sick and feeding the hungry and admonishing us
    to love one another. Bishop Bransfield was my bishop when I
    lived in WV. I hope these allegations are not true.


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